I'm from Missouri

This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

Name:
Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Friday, October 31, 2008

New website for "Expelled"

Here.

Hat tip to Jim Sherwood.


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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Anything to avoid evolution disclaimers and "teaching the controversy"

Teachers are now attending special workshops to learn sugar-coating methods for shoving evolution down students' throats, but it is hard to take seriously some teachers' complaints about resistance to the teaching of evolution when these teachers are not in favor of trying evolution disclaimer statements and "teaching the controversy" as methods for reducing such resistance. A news article in the Atlanta-Constitution says,

Some students burst into tears when a high school biology told them they’d be studying evolution. Another teacher said some students repeatedly screamed “no” when he began talking about it.

Other teachers said students demanded to know whether they pray and questioned why the had to learn about evolution if it was just a theory.

About 60 public high school teachers from the Atlanta area were at Emory University last week, swapping stories about the challenges they face when teaching evolution.
They said students often walk in with grave misconceptions about the subject, and many parents fear teachers will tell kids that they can’t have their religious beliefs.

“I’ve seen churches train students to come to school with specific questions to ask to sabotage my lessons,” said Bonnie Pratt, a biology teacher at Northview High in north Fulton County. “We need parents and the community to understand why and how we teach evolution.”

The teachers were at a workshop on teaching evolution organized by Emory’s Center for Science Education. They discussed ways to teach it and how to address challenges and misconceptions. The training was part of a two-day evolution conference on campus that ended Friday.

However, only 2% of respondents in a recent national survey of science teachers said that they avoid evolution altogether.

In Edwards v. Aguillard 482 U.S. 578, 593-594 (1987) , the Supreme Court struck down the teaching of creationism but gave approval to "teaching the controversy":
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We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. Indeed, the Court acknowledged in Stone [Stone v. Graham] that its decision forbidding the posting of the Ten Commandments did not mean that no use could ever be made of the Ten Commandments, or that the Ten Commandments played an exclusively religious role in the history of Western Civilization. 449 U.S. at 42. In a similar way, teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. But because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to endorse a particular religious doctrine, the Act furthers religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Teachers are protesting too much when they complain that teaching the controversy would confuse students -- if evolution theory is robust, it should not be easy to confuse students about it.

The Kitzmiller v. Dover evolution-disclaimer case is widely known but it is not widely known that two other decisions against evolution disclaimers, Selman v. Cobb County (textbook sticker) and Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish (oral disclaimer), came close to being reversed. The appeals court panel in Selman v. Cobb County indicated in an oral hearing that it was leaning towards reversal but then vacated and remanded the decision because of missing evidence, and the county school board then took a dive by settling out of court. Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish came within single votes of getting an en banc (full court) appeals court rehearing and certiorari by the Supreme Court (a grant of certiorari requires approval of four of the nine Supreme Court justices). Supreme Court denials of certiorari are normally made without comment, but in an unusual move, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justices Thomas and Rehnquist, issued a long, detailed opinion dissenting from the denial of certiorari in Freiler. The appeals court judges who dissented from the denial of an en banc rehearing also issued a long opinion.

The National Center for Science Education is especially hypocritical -- the NCSE is opposed to evolution disclaimer statements but gives teachers advice on how to use religion to promote evolution in the classroom.

Students, parents, and others need to make more resistance to the dogmatic teaching of Darwinism -- we need classroom disruptions, demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns, etc..
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Monday, October 27, 2008

Video of Judge "Jackass" Jones harangue


I previously announced a September 25 lecture by Judge Jones at Case Western Reserve University. A video of the lecture is now available. Unfortunately, I won't be able to watch it myself because of the slowness of my dial-up connection. I can view the video only in two-second segments with interruptions of about 15 seconds and even if I could figure out how to download the complete video with my present software I would still have to wait several hours for this video to download (sometimes a complete video is downloaded automatically, but not this time). I wish that an audio-only option were available -- my dial-up connection can handle audio-only transmissions.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

This evil genie belongs back in the bottle


"OLD CHIPMUNK CHEEKS"


Celebrating Darwin's birthday was bad enough, but now the Darwinists are even celebrating Darwinists' birthdays. The blogs of both Fatheaded Ed Brayton and Greg "Osama bin" Laden have posts wishing a happy birthday to "Genie" Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education [1] [2]. Like typical name-droppers, Brayton and Laden call her by the familiar name "Genie" -- most people call her "Eugenie."

Genie is probably at least partly responsible for the unconstitutional promotion of pro-Darwinist religious views on UC-Berkeley's "Understanding Evolution for Teachers" website.

I also discuss Genie Scott's shenanigans here.

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Eastern Chipmunk photo is courtesy of The Chipmunk Place, eNature.com, and Carl E. Sams, Dembinsky Photo Associates.

Wikipedia says that Eastern Chipmunks use cheek pouches to transport food (like other chipmunks) and also dirt that they have excavated from their burrows. The Chipmunk Place says,

This species is single-minded in its food gathering, making trips from tree to storage burrow almost continuously. It was estimated that over three days one chipmunk stored a bushel of chestnuts, hickory nuts, and corn kernels.


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Friday, October 24, 2008

Drawing for free Expelled DVD's


To enter, go here.

Now I just need to get a DVD player.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Urgent: Comments on new Texas science standards are now being accepted

Note: There is a new post-label group of articles about the Texas controversy.

The Texas Education Agency is now accepting comments on the proposed Texas science standards (Science TEKS, i.e., Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). The most important and controversial standards are the high school (9-12) science standards. The following message was broadcast by TEA assistant science director Irene Pickhardt:

Please note that our Science TEKS Review Committees will meet at the end of October and will have an opportunity to begin reviewing comments.

-- so time's a-wasting. The review of the Science TEKS will continue into next year, but we supporters of the "strengths and weaknesses" language are already behind the eight ball because the language has been omitted from the proposed high-school biology standards. If I had known that the committees would start reviewing comments so soon, I would have inquired sooner about how to send in comments. Comments in favor of restoring the "strengths and weaknesses" language to Section 3(A) of the high school biology standards -- as well as the high-school standards for other scientific fields where this language was dropped -- are especially badly needed.

Ignore the instructions on how to submit the high-school science PDF comment form. I tried to follow the instructions and they did not work. Per the instructions, I saved the comment form to my hard-drive ( I could save it only as a PDF file ), filled it in, and then tried to email the filled-in form as an attachment but could not -- I could email the comment form only as an empty form. Whoever prepared this PDF comment form obviously didn't know what (s)he was doing. The instructions say, "These forms have been posted for your convenience (haha). Feedback may be submitted in any format." I am just going to submit my comments in my default email format, an HTML format. However, I recommend that you try to submit the same information requested on the comment form.

Email the comments to curric@tea.state.tx.us

Here are my recommendations for the emails (these are not official instructions, but I am trying to follow the instructions given) --
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(1) Show -- in both the subject line (that top window showing the subject that will appear in the recipient's in-box) and at the top of the email contents -- the name of the committee (or course or science field) to which the email is addressed. Choose only one committee (or course or field) per email. The high-school science standards are divided up into the following fields: IPC (integrated physics and chemistry), Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Environmental Systems, Aquatic Science, Astronomy, Earth and Space Science, Engineering Design. As I pointed out, there are no overall or core standards, and the different standards for the individual fields have a lot of duplication and mutual contradictions & inconsistencies. I might not send comments to all the committees. A big problem is that standards for all of the scientific fields are different and so the comments may need to be individualized for each field -- maybe I will later post my individualized comments. I will definitely send comments to the biology, chemistry, and astronomy committees (I will thank the latter two committees for retaining the "strengths and weaknesses" language). BTW, the current high-school science standards have the same format as the proposed standards: divided up into individual disciplines with no core or overall standards.

(2) Show participant type: Teacher, Administrator, Parent, Student, University/College Staff, Business/Industry Representative, Community Member (Texas resident ?), and "Other." Might be a good idea to show the participant type on the subject line as well as at the top of the email contents.

(3) Since you won't be using the high-school comment form, you should note in both the subject line and the email contents that you are commenting on the high-school standards. So my subject line and top line of my email contents might look like the following: "High-school Science TEKS comments. Course: Biology. Participant type: Other"

(4) As shown on the high school comment form, comments are divided into three categories -- you should identify the categories of your comments:

i. -- Comments on the introduction for each course (section (b) on the proposed TEKS for each course). When commenting, I recommend identifying sections by number.

ii. -- Comments on Knowledge and Skills (KS) statements and Student Expectations (SE) (section (c) on the proposed TEKS for each course). It is not clear how the KS and SE statements are distinguished. It appears that the KS statements have just the heading numbers (e.g., KS(3)) and the SE statements have letters (e.g., SE(3A)). So the "strengths and weakness" language would either appear in the SE(3A) statement (chemistry and astronomy only) or not appear in the SE(3A) statement (the rest of the courses including biology). Anyway, when commenting on the "strengths and weaknesses" language, you won't really need to identify the section because the committee members will know exactly what you are talking about.

iii. -- General comments about the whole proposed high-school science TEKS. If you are really pressed for time, it is probably best to just make some general comments, as there are some general issues that apply to all of the different courses.

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A description of the proposed high-school Science TEKS is here and my proposed comments are here. I have added a new proposal: reword the "strengths and weaknesses" language to say "scientific strengths and scientific and pseudoscientific weaknesses," which should exclude creationism and supernaturalism because those things do not pretend to be scientific.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A fish story: Your Fishy Inner Fish


For larger image, click on picture

From an article in Evolution News & Views.

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For larger image, click on picture

Pectoral fins of: a, Eusthenopteron; b, Panderichthys; and c, Tiktaalik. d, Limb of Acanthostega. H, humerus; Int, intermedium; R, radius; U, ulna; Ure, ulnare. Scale bar, 1 cm. a is redrawn from ref. 17, c from ref. 4 and d from ref. 11.

From an article in Panda's Thumb.

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A new controversy has flared up over Tiktaalik, the much ballyhooed fossil that is supposed to be a transition between fish and land tetrapods. Tiktaalik is the subject of a book titled "Your Inner Fish." I previously reported a controversy over Tiktaalik's alleged "wrist" bones.

Casey Luskin of Evolution News & Views reported that scientists are now claiming that the limb bones of another fossil, Pandericthys, are more tetrapod-like than the limb bones of Tiktaalik. See above pictures. However, as Casey's article points out, the "digits" of Pandericthys look more like bone fragments than digits. The Darwinists are always grasping at straws in their desperate efforts to "prove" that Darwinism is true, but we are not supposed to question their claims.
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However, Casey Luskin misrepresents the Darwinists when he repeatedly flatly says that Tiktaalik is "poor" as fossil evidence of an evolutionary transition from fish to tetrapods. The Darwinists are not admitting that Tiktaalik is "poor" in general as fossil evidence of such evolution but are only admitting that Tiktaalik is poor as evidence of an evolutionary transition from fishes' radial fin bones to tetrapods' digital bones. Tiktaalik still has a lot of tetrapod-like features: a flat, crocodile-like head; a neck that can bend, a rib cage, and ear notches. The admission by Darwinists that Tiktaalik is poor evidence of a limb transition is certainly a big deal if they are making it for the first time, but Luskin should be clear as to exactly what they are admitting.

Answers-in-Genesis also has an article criticizing Darwinist scientists' conclusions about Tiktaalik.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Texas school board support for "strengths and weaknesses" language could weaken

A news article says,

In previous public discussions, seven of 15 board members appeared to support, on some level, the teaching of the weaknesses of evolution in science classrooms.

Six have been opposed, and two — Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio — are considered swing votes.

Though the seven supporters of the "strengths and weaknesses" language have been portrayed as fundy-type creationist crackpots, to my knowledge none of them have called for removing evolution from the Texas biology standards. The dogmatic Darwinists who are trying to remove the sensible "strengths and weaknesses" language from the biology standards are the real crackpots.

This already precarious support for the "strengths and weaknesses" language is threatened with being weakened further by the possible results of upcoming board elections. Apparently there are two races in which supporters of the "weaknesses" language are being seriously challenged: District 14, Gail Lowe, and District 7, David Bradley. The balance on a science standards review panel is also threatened because each member of the panel was nominated by a pair of board of education members.

The Democratic challenger in District 14, Edra Fogle, appears to be a hopeless dyed-in-the-wool dogmatic Darwinist. Her campaign website even makes the straw-man comparison of the evolution controversy and the heliocentrism controversy:
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This year the question will be whether to teach creationism, otherwise called intelligent design, in high school biology. Serious scientists reject the belief, based on the fossil evidence—and on what we see every year about mutations, about bacteria and viruses adapting to new drugs, about one species of plants or one kind of fish driving out another. Everyone has a right to one’s religious beliefs, but these have no place in the curriculum. Our children will have to compete in an increasingly global market. American education is currently producing less satisfactory results than that in many foreign countries. We do not dare let our schools fall ever further behind by ill-equipping our students.

Do we want to be like those “scientists” of the Renaissance who rejected heliocentrism — the belief that the earth goes around the sun? What would our understanding of the universe be like if we still taught that the earth is fixed in place at the center of everything, and that the planets and stars revolve around it? Copernicus developed mathematical reasons refuting this belief in the early 1500’s, but was forced to recant. Over a century later Galileo was held under house arrest by the Inquisition for advocating Copernican theory, in spite of the evidence supplied by better telescopes. Not until well along into the 1700’s was the overwhelming evidence that the earth revolves around the sun accepted.

When in the hell are Darwinists going to get it through their thick skulls that not all criticisms of evolution are based on religion?

The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports that an independent is also running against Lowe.

A Houston Chronicle endorsement of the District 7 challenger, Laura Ewing, says,

One of the board members supporting the "strengths and weaknesses" provision is the vice chairman, David Bradley of Beaumont. Bradley, a Republican representing District 7, which includes parts of the Houston area, contends: "Evolution is not a fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proved. Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions."

Ewing, by contrast, says she believes in creationism but thinks it is best discussed in personal religious practice rather than in the classroom. The Chronicle could not agree more.

However, nowhere does Ewing's campaign website say anything about her believing in creationism, nor does her website have any direct statement from her about the evolution controversy (her website does post copies of pro-Darwinist articles, but these are not in Ewing's own words). The closest her website comes to making her own statement -- in her own words -- about the evolution controversy is the following statement, from an op-ed published in the Beaumont Examiner:

Unfortunately, a group of so-called conservatives that has seized control of the board appear much more interested in furthering an ideological agenda than improving Texas schools. Far from conservative, these board members are fostering a radical attack on public education in this state. From tampering with science and reading textbooks to skirting or ignoring laws with which they disagree or find inconvenient, the group works full-time to undermine the very school system they are legally bound to support. (emphasis added)

The school board members can't "tamper" with textbooks -- only publishers can do that. However, publishers have sometimes rewritten textbooks to suit the wishes of the Texas board of education.

Also, as I have said many times, the issue here is not just "poof"-type creationism -- some scientific and pseudoscientific criticisms (or weaknesses) of evolution are so technically sophisticated that they can be properly taught only by qualified science teachers.

If Ewing really believes in creationism, that's good IMO -- that would probably make it easier to persuade her to support retention of the "strengths and weaknesses" language. If she will approach the "strengths and weaknesses" language with an open mind, that's good.

BTW, here is an op-ed by board chairman Don McLeroy, who supports the "strengths and weaknesses" language.
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Benchmarks for state science standards

Benchmarks:

(1) Students will know how people of the Middle Ages -- as well as some ancients -- knew that the earth is round.

(2) Students will know the origins of the myth that people of the Middle Ages believed that the earth is flat. Students will know that fabulist Washington Irving's fabricated biography of Columbus was a major source of this myth.

(3) Students will know that stupid, ignorant Darwinists have been spreading this myth in an effort to discredit criticisms of Darwinism.

Students will be tested on the above three benchmarks. Students will not receive a passing grade until they correctly answer questions about these benchmarks.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Revised "strengths and weaknesses" language for Texas biology standards

As regular readers of this blog know, there is now a big controversy over whether or not to retain the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the new Texas biology standards. This language -- which has been in the Texas science standards for 20 years or more -- is,

The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.

Teaching scientific and pseudoscientific weaknesses (or criticisms) of evolution theory serves the bona fide secular purposes of broadening students' education, encouraging critical thinking, helping students learn the material, and increasing student interest. For example, IMO the Second Law of Thermodynamics is not a valid criticism of evolution but analysis of the SLoT as a criticism of evolution would be a valuable learning experience for students. Also, some scientific and pseudoscientific criticisms of evolution are so technically sophisticated that they can be properly taught only by qualified science teachers -- this stuff is not just "poof"-type creationism. However, Darwinists advocate a scorched-earth policy of eliminating the "strengths and weaknesses" language just to prevent the fundies from using it as a loophole for introducing creationism or supernaturalism into science courses. Darwinists are trying to throw out the baby with the bathwater -- or burn down the house to roast the pig.
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I propose the following rewording of the "strengths and weaknesses" language: "scientific and pseudoscientific strengths and weaknesses." An alternative wording would be "scientific strengths and scientific and pseudoscientific weaknesses," for those who object to the idea of calling strengths "pseudoscientific." Those wordings leave open the possibility that some of the weaknesses -- and even some of the "strengths" -- may be pseudoscientific, but allow alleged weaknesses to be taught anyway for the reasons I stated above. However, creationism and supernaturalism could not satisfy the terms "scientific" or "pseudoscientific" because these things do not pretend to be scientific.
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Chris Comer had history of troublemaking


Evolution News & Views has the story here.

IMO the big controversy now over whether to retain the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas science standards shows why the Texas Education Agency wants to maintain an image of neutrality. Imagine if the TEA were accused of not giving a fair hearing to proponents of retaining the "strengths and weaknesses" language.

IMO ousting Comer was a mistake because it has turned her into a Darwinist heroine and martyr. IMO the TEA should have retained her but kept her on a short leash -- with a choke-chain collar. The TEA could have really made things miserable for her, like making her regularly email out apologies for announcing the Forrest conspiracy-theory lecture (e.g., "I am really, really sorry. Really I am. Please forgive me.").

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Questions about arbitrary censorship on blogs

Questions for the great legal minds who frequently visit this blog:

(1) Suppose that a really popular blog accuses someone of, say, an infamous crime, and the blogger censors all comments that rebut the accusation. Could the blogger be sued for libel on the grounds that the censorship of the rebuttals shows "reckless disregard" of whether the accusation "was true or false" (New York Times v. Sullivan) and on the grounds that regardless of whether or not the original accusation was the result of "actual malice" (New York Times v. Sullivan), the censorship of rebuttals shows "actual malice"?

(2) Court opinions occasionally cite blogs. Suppose that the Supreme Court cites a blog visitor's comment and that the citation is decisive in deciding the case. Suppose that the blogger disagrees with the comment and decides to censor it -- along with associated comments ((in order to eliminate the context of the comment) -- because the Supreme Court cited it. Forget for the moment that the court could independently archive the original post and the comment thread (authorities citing Internet sources often fail to independently archive the source). Would such censorship be ethical or not?

In answering these questions, please keep in mind that blogs are private property and that it is always legal and proper for bloggers to do whatever they want.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Darwinists oppose balance on science standards committees

The Texas Board of Education has nominated 6 people for a panel to review the proposed new Texas state science standards. An article in the Dallas Morning News says, "The committee was chosen by 12 of the 15 members of the board of education, with each panel member receiving the support of two board members." The Texas Freedom Network website says,

AUSTIN - Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller today sharply criticized the inclusion of three strident evolution opponents, including two authors of an anti-evolution textbook, on a panel that will review proposed new science curriculum standards for Texas public schools. The inclusion of the two textbook authors raises serious questions about conflicts of interest and whether political agendas took priority over giving Texas students a 21st-century science education, Miller said.

“It’s simply stunning that any state board members would even consider appointing authors of an anti-evolution textbook to a panel of scientists,” she said. “Are they coming here to help write good science standards or to drum up a market for their lousy textbook?”

As the Discovery Institute points out, Darwinist panel nominees David Hillis and Gerald Skoog also have a "conflict of interest" because they are also authors of biology textbooks.

The TFN webpage continues,
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The textbook, Explore Evolution, is intended for secondary schools and colleges, according to its U.S. distributor, the anti-evolution Discovery Institute in Seattle. Because of that, the State Board of Education could consider it for the state’s approved list of science textbooks in 2011.

The two authors are Stephen Meyer, who is vice president of the Discovery Institute, and Ralph Seelke, a professor of the department of biology and earth sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. A third panel member, Charles Garner, is a professor of chemistry at Baylor University in Waco.

All three are supporters of the anti-evolution concept “intelligent design”/creationism and have signed the Discovery Institute’s “Dissent from Darwinism” statement. In addition to their textbook, Meyer and Seelke testified in 2005 against evolution in hearings called by religious conservatives who controlled the Kansas State Board of Education.

Texas state board members nominated all six panelists. The three other members of the review panel are Texas scientists with long, distinguished resumes:

David Hillis, professor of integrative biology and director of the Center of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at the University of Texas at Austin;

Ronald K. Wetherington, professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence;

Gerald Skoog, professor and dean emeritus of the College of Education at Texas Tech and co-director of the Center for Integration of Science Education and Research

The Darwinists are quick to accuse Meyer, Seelke, and Garner of bias while ignoring the biases of the other three nominees, Hillis, Wetherington, and Skoog. David Hillis was a speaker at a press conference of the 21st Century Science Coalition, which seeks to remove the ~ 20-year-old "strengths and weaknesses" language from the state science standards. Gerald Skoog has also been a pro-Darwinist activist and is a signer of the coalition's statement that opposes the "strengths and weaknesses" language. Ronald Wetherington opposed the holding of a "Darwin v. Design" conference at SMU last year (to his credit, Wetherington has not signed the 21st Century Science Coalition's statement opposing the "strengths and weaknesses" language -- yet). So none of the 6 nominees for the panel is neutral and the nominees are evenly divided between dogmatic Darwinists and Darwin doubters.

It was reported that 6 members (correction -- the correct figure is 7, out of a total of 15 members) of the Texas board of education support retaining the "strengths and weaknesses" language, so why should anyone be surprised that they selected panel nominees who support that position?

Darwin doubters are not asking for the moon -- mainly they are just asking for retention of the "strengths and weaknesses" language that has been in the standards for 20 years or more.

The TFN webpage says,

“Texas universities boast some of the leading scientists in the world,” Miller said. “It’s appalling that some state board members turned to out-of-state ideologues to decide whether Texas kids get a 21st-century science education.”

If Meyer and Seelke supported the TFN agenda, TFN would not object to their being from out-of-state.

News articles about the selection of the nominees for the panel are here and here.

Darwinists are opposed to any kind of balance on science standards committees. Why does every member of a state science-standards committee have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Darwinist? Why shouldn't the many people who are in favor of keeping the "strengths and weaknesses" language be represented on the standards committees? Also, the Darwinists really loused up the recently adopted Florida state science standards. The Florida science standards say that "evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology." That's just plain wrong -- how can that be true when 13% of respondents in a recent national survey of science teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that an "excellent" biology course could exist that does not mention Darwin or evolution theory at all? And the Florida science standards say that "scientific theories" are by definition "well-supported" and "widely accepted." That's ridiculous -- there are strong scientific theories and weak scientific theories.

I called the Texas Education Agency yesterday and asked when they are going to post the online form for commenting about the proposed new science standards and they told me that they are working on it and did not give me a firm release date. The proposed standards were released nearly four weeks ago and time's a-wasting -- there is going to be some kind of preliminary hearing or decision in November (there will be further hearings and a final decision will be made some time next year).
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Law blog post about a blogging fairness doctrine

Balkinization, a popular law blog, has an article titled, "The Fairness Doctrine and the Blogosphere." This is the first time I have ever seen another blog's article on the specific subject of blogging fairness doctrines. I have long advocated a blogging fairness doctrine that would prohibit or discourage the arbitrary censorship of blog visitors' comments. I have posted a comment under this Balkinization blog article -- my comment is the 18th comment in the comment thread (I tried to make a direct link to the comment but the link does not work) . For the first time, I could post such a comment on another blog without attempting to hijack the comment thread! My comment about a blogging fairness doctrine successfully hijacked a comment thread on the Volokh Conspiracy blog -- actually, it was not really a big hijacking because the original topic was broadcasting fairness doctrines and I changed the topic to blogging fairness doctrines. Also, I have discovered a law professor, Cass Sunstein, who might agree with my ideas about a blogging fairness doctrine, and I will try to contact him -- an article said,

. . . . the biggest potential danger of neutrality is that its concern for equal treatment of bits will extend to sites' content, creating a kind of Fairness Doctrine for the Web, as FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has warned — and as Obama adviser and law professor Cass Sunstein once called for.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Originalism poisons the "Is the U.S. a Christian Nation?" debate

The debate is here on a website titled "Opposing Views." IMO a better title of the debate would be "Was the U.S. founded as a Christian nation," because that is the main topic of the debate. IMO we would not even be having this big debate were it not for the cockamamie doctrine of "originalism," the notion that court decisions should be controlled by the beliefs of the Founders. Many originalists believe that the Founders beliefs should be controlling even when those beliefs are not expressed, implied, or even suggested in the Constitution. Even if we could agree about the beliefs of the individual Founders, there would still be the problem of which Founders' views to emphasize -- for example, the religion-related views (I use the term "religion-related" because some Founders who supported the establishment clause might have been very religious) of Washington have been conveniently ignored while the religion-related views of Jefferson and Madison have been emphasized. The originalists have never even explained why court decisions should give the Founders' beliefs extra weight, let alone explained why the Founders' beliefs should be controlling. In the area of the establishment clause, originalism has completely destroyed objectivity in the study of the Founders' beliefs about religion and church-state separation -- e.g., as a result of originalism, the Founders have been portrayed as everything from a bunch of bible-pounding holy-rolling fundies to a bunch of godless blasphemous atheists.
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As I have said many times, one of the worst examples of originalism is Judge John E. Jones III's statement in his Dickinson College commencement speech that his Kitzmiller v. Dover decision was based on his cockamamie notion that the Founders based the establishment clause upon a belief that organized religions are not "true" religions. Ironically, he gave the speech while standing behind the Dickinson College seal, which was designed by USA Founders Benjamin Rush and John Dickinson and which contains a picture of an open bible and the college motto in Latin, "religion and learning, the bulwark of liberty."

IMO the history of American colleges and universities is a better indication of the probable religion-related beliefs of the founding generation than are quote mines of individual Founders. The website of the University of Virginia says (boldness added),

The University of Virginia was founded as a secular university, with no religious affiliation or denominational identity. In contrast, Georgia, UNC, South Carolina, Vermont, Blount College (which became the University of Tennessee), and others chartered as state universities had denominational sponsorship.

Chapel attendance was not required of students at the University of Virginia. Other universities, public and private, required their students to attend church services. In fact, Harvard did not do away with the chapel requirement until late in the 19th century.

For Jefferson, the college experience should take place within an "academical village," a place where shared learning infused daily life. Plans were developed for ten Pavilions—stately faculty homes with living quarters upstairs and classrooms downstairs—attached to two rows of student rooms and connected by an inward-facing colonnade.

At the head of the shared lawn would stand the library (not, as in most other colleges and universities of the time, a chapel), . . . .

U.Va. could be exaggerating here because it has an ax to grind -- it wants to give itself an image of being an innovator in higher education. Still, though, I think the above claims about religion's influence in higher education -- particularly at public universities -- are worth checking out. BTW, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the first public university in the USA and was founded in 1789, the same year in which North Carolina ratified the Bill of Rights, which of course contains the establishment clause. It is noteworthy that the best-known buildings at the Air Force Academy and the US Military Academy at West Point are the chapels -- in fact, the chapel is regarded as a symbol of the Air Force Academy.

I have no general interest in whether the USA is a Christian nation or not, or in whether it was founded as a Christian nation or not. I just don't like to see the establishment clause being misused the way that Darwinists are misusing it.
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Monday, October 13, 2008

Another summary of Caldwell v. Caldwell

This news article is another summary of the 9th Circuit appeals court's Caldwell v. Caldwell decision. The arbitrariness and capriciousness of the judges' reasoning are readily apparent.

The National Center for Science Education also has a summary of the decision.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Caldwell v. Caldwell is a travesty, Part 2


For a larger image, click on above picture

The homepage of "Understanding Evolution for Teachers." The plaintiff in Caldwell v. Caldwell could not be sure which topics to avoid on this homepage in order to avoid seeing an offensive religious message -- for example, such a message is likely to appear under the topic labels "misconceptions," "overcoming roadblocks," "nature of science," and even "teaching evolution."

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Part 1 is here.

The appeals court opinion in Caldwell v. Caldwell says (pages 9-10),

In Buono [Buono v. Norton, 371 F.3d 543 (9th Cir. 2004)] , the plaintiff, a retired employee of the Park Service who had been Assistant Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve and regularly visited it, complained that a Latin cross atop Sunrise Rock violated the Establishment Clause and was offensive to him. He regarded the cross as offensive because it was on federal property — not because of the cross as such — and the district court found that Buono would tend to avoid Sunrise Rock as long as the cross remained standing. We held that Valley Forge “drew a distinction between abstract grievances and personal injuries, not ideological and religious beliefs,” 371 F.3d at 547, and that Buono’s inhibition from freely using the Preserve sufficed as injury in fact and constituted “personal injury suffered . . . as a consequence of the alleged constitutional error.” Id. (quoting Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 485) [Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464 (1982)] . (boldness added)

What? "Drew a distinction between abstract grievances and personal injuries, not ideological and religious beliefs"? What in the hell is that supposed to mean? That is really getting arbitrary, capricious, nitpicking, and hairsplitting -- it is all basically just a "right" to not be offended.

The Caldwell opinion continues (page 10),

Since Buono, we have also considered standing to pursue an Establishment Clause challenge in the context of a government seal. In Vasquez v. Los Angeles County . . . .

The ridiculous Vasquez v. Los Angeles County case is discussed in Part 1.

Caldwell says (pages 10-11),

Caldwell’s situation does not fit neatly into a place already staked out along the continuum of Establishment Clause standing. She is neither so removed from the conduct challenged as the plaintiffs were in Valley Forge, nor so close as the plaintiff was in Vasquez. Her connection to the writing on the website is more tenuous than Buono’s to the Preserve where the offending symbol was a Latin cross that was permanently installed on a top of a hill, while her complaint is more abstract and her contact less forced than Vasquez’s.

The Caldwell v. Caldwell decision does not adequately distinguish between Jeanne Caldwell's situation and Buono's situation. Buono always knew where the cross was and he could avoid looking at it. However, Caldwell could not be sure which topics to avoid on the "Understanding Evolution for Teachers" homepage -- shown above -- in order to avoid seeing an offensive religious message; for example, such a message is likely to appear under the topic labels "misconceptions," "overcoming roadblocks," "nature of science," and even "teaching evolution." I will show below that Caldwell was also not adequately distinguished from Vasquez.

Caldwell says (page 11),

It is instructive to compare School District of Abington v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963), and Doremus v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 429 (1952), as the Supreme Court did in Valley Forge. 454 U.S. at 486 n.22. Schempp is the source of the rule which informed our decision in the seal case, that unwelcome direct contact with an allegedly offensive religious or anti-religious symbol, suffices for Article III standing.(boldness added)

See Vasquez, 487 F.3d at 1251-53. In Schempp, children enrolled in public school together with their parents objected to a Bible reading in the classroom that was mandated by state law. The Court found the interests asserted sufficient for standing because these plaintiffs were “directly affected by the laws and practices against which their complaints are directed.” Schempp, 374 U.S. at 224 n.9. This contrasts with Doremus, in which the same issues were raised but in which parents lost standing to sue when their children were graduated. 342 U.S. at 432-33 . . . . (boldness added)

As the Court explained in Valley Forge, “[t]he plaintiffs in Schempp had standing, not because their complaint rested on the Establishment Clause — for as Doremus demonstrated, that is insufficient — but because impressionable schoolchildren were subjected to unwelcome religious exercises or were forced to assume special burdens to avoid them.” 454 U.S. at 486 n.22. (boldness added)

How does Doremus show that resting a complaint on the Establishment Clause is insufficient? According to the above statements in Caldwell, Doremus raised the same issues as Schempp but the parents in Doremus "lost standing to sue when their children were graduated." So according to the above statements in Caldwell, all Doremus really showed was that plaintiffs can be declared to lose standing when challenged actions no longer directly affect them. But what does that have to do with Caldwell, where there is no claim that the plaintiff is no longer affected by the challenged action? Anyway, Jeanne Caldwell -- like Vasquez -- complained of "unwelcome direct contact with an allegedly offensive religious or anti-religious symbol" or message, and if anything, her complaint was less "abstract" than Vasquez's complaint about the county seal because the seal did not contain any offensive religious or anti-religious symbols or messages but was just a reminder that a Christian cross had been removed when the seal was redesigned.

Caldwell says (page 12) --

. . . .Caldwell’s offense is no more than an “abstract objection” to how the University’s website presents the subject . . . That she is the parent of school-age children makes her position no less remote, for her connection to the University of California website is not similar to the relationship in Schempp between parents whose children are directly exposed to unwelcome religious exercises in the classroom and the school district. Accordingly, we believe there is too slight a connection between Caldwell’s generalized grievance, and the government conduct about which she complains, to sustain her standing to proceed.

So was that the deciding factor in the decision to deny standing -- the fact that the contact with the offending material was not "forced"? Isn't that sort of arbitrary?

BTW, Justice Antonin Scalia's concurring opinion in Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation criticizes flaws and inconsistencies in some of the same decisions cited in Caldwell: Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464 (1982), Doremus v. Board of Education, 342 U.S. 429 (1952), and Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992).

Also, something really bothered me about the testimony of the National Science Foundation's attorney at the oral hearing (click on "statements by one judge during oral arguments" on this webpage -- the offending statement starts at 35:38 in the audio recording). He argued -- I think correctly -- that the NSF had no control over the content of UC-Berkeley's website and therefore was not a proper defendant in the case (in contrast, the US Environmental Protection Agency was a proper defendant in my lawsuit against California's smog impact fee because -- as an expert testified in state court -- the fee required the approval of the EPA). However, he added that the NSF's briefs said that the district court correctly dismissed the case, and IMO that was uncalled-for -- if the NSF is not a proper party to the case and is not affected by the case in any way, then the NSF should not be stating an opinion as to whether the case was correctly dismissed or not. Some attorneys have no sense of propriety.

Also, I want to say that IMO the rules of standing to sue should just be thrown out the window in constitutional cases. The Constitution is supposed to be the supreme law of the land, and following a rule of standing at the expense of the Constitution is straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. Unfortunately, the tendency in the courts -- including constitutional cases -- has been to make the rules of standing more stringent rather than less stringent, because making these rules less stringent would lead to charges of violating precedent and charges that plaintiffs in the past were unfairly denied standing. Thus, the courts are riding a tiger and are afraid to dismount. Also, a desire to duck a lawsuit's merits gives judges an incentive to deny standing (judges desiring to duck issues should make more use of the principle of non-justiciability). The courts have been painting themselves into a corner by making the rules of standing more and more restrictive. One most choose between supporting the Constitution and supporting the rules of standing -- no one can serve two masters. Probably one of the worst examples of a court-created rule of standing is the arbitrary rule from Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation saying that taxpayers in establishment clause cases have standing where Congressional allocations of tax money are involved but not where executive-branch allocations of tax money are involved. IMO the notion that stringent rules of standing are necessary to prevent the courts from being flooded with lawsuits does not hold water -- the time, trouble, and expense of filing lawsuits tend to discourage frivolous lawsuits, and frivolous lawsuits that are filed can be quickly disposed of in rulings on the merits. And -- hypocritically -- Congress and the courts have actually been encouraging a proliferation of constitutional lawsuits by allowing unlimited attorney fee awards at full market rates even when the legal representation is pro bono and/or by non-profit organizations (see this article about Blum v. Stenson). Also, the vigilantist "citizen suit" provisions of environmental laws give all citizens standing to sue even when there are no allegations of injury to anyone or anything, let alone the plaintiffs.

If judges are really determined to deny standing, they can almost always find an excuse for doing so.

Judge to plaintiff: "I know that you have lost a fortune and spent years in pursuing this case, but I am still wondering if you are really interested in this case. I don't mean just a little interested -- I mean really, really interested. "

A litigant, it seems, will have standing if he is "deemed" to have the requisite interest, and "if you . . . have standing, then you can be confident you are" suitably interested.
-- Justice Harlan, dissenting opinion in Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 130

BTW, Justice Harlan also made the following statement about "taxpayer standing" (the issue of taxpayer standing was a factor in the district court's -- but not the appeals court's -- denial of standing in this case) --

The taxpayer cannot ask the return of any portion of his previous tax payments, cannot prevent the collection of any existing tax debt, and cannot demand an adjudication of the propriety of any particular level of taxation. His tax payments are received for the general purposes of the United States, and are, upon proper receipt, lost in the general revenues. . (citation omitted) . . . The interests he represents, and the rights he espouses, are, as they are in all public actions, those held in common by all citizens. To describe those rights and interests as personal, and to intimate that they are in some unspecified fashion to be differentiated from those of the general public, reduces constitutional standing to a word game played by secret rules. -- Justice Harlan, dissenting opinion in Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 128-129

Rules of standing that are based on bad precedents are reminiscent of the following observation by Jonathan Swift:

It is a maxim among these lawyers that whatever has been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice, and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of directing accordingly.

-- and also the following definition of "precedent" in Ambrose Bierce's "Devil's Dictionary":

In Law, a previous decision, rule or practice which, in the absence of a definite statute, has whatever force and authority a Judge may choose to give it, thereby greatly simplifying his task of doing as he pleases. As there are precedents for everything, he has only to ignore those that make against his interest and accentuate those in the line of his desire. Invention of the precedent elevates the trial-at-law from the low estate of a fortuitous ordeal to the noble attitude of a dirigible arbitrament.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

"Imagine" segment of "Expelled" DVD self-censored by distributor

Sadly, Anthony Falzone of the Stanford Fair Use Project reported that the segment of the "Expelled" DVD with John Lennon's "Imagine" song was self-censored by the distributor because of the now-withdrawn copyright lawsuits that were hanging over the movie:

After both the state and federal courts rejected the attempts of Yoko Ono Lennon and EMI Records to enjoin the showing of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed on the ground it used a 15-second fragment of John Lennon's Imagine, all of the plaintiffs in both cases have now withdrawn their claims and dismissed their cases.

This is the right result to be sure. There should never have been any doubt the filmmakers who were sued here had every right to use a short segment of a song for the purpose of criticizing it and the views it represents. But the right result came far too late. The mere pendency of these cases caused the film's DVD distributor to shy away from releasing the full film -- the version that includes the Imagine segment. So the film goes out on DVD on October 21 in censored form, illustrating the damage that even an unproved and unsupported infringement claim can do.

It is not clear whether the video scenes were cut or just the soundtrack was cut, and I will try to find out.
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The fundies are one of the biggest markets for the "Expelled" DVD -- the ad for this DVD on the Answers-in-Genesis fundy creationist website is especially enthusiastic about the movie [1]. I presume that the "Imagine" segment was one of the fundies' favorite parts of the movie, so the DVD's omission of this segment will be a big disappointment for them. Darwinists are still moaning that the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are the victims, but the real victims are the defendants. There was extra damage to the defendants because the plaintiffs continued these lawsuits long after it became obvious that these lawsuits were not going anywhere. Darwinist bloggers are to blame because they accused Yoko Ono of "selling out." Even if she had licensed or released the song to the "Expelled" producers, would that have been so terrible? It is wrong to assume that allowing a copyrighted work to be borrowed by another work implies endorsement of the borrowing work.
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Caldwell v. Caldwell is a travesty, Part 1


For larger image, click on the picture above.

FIG. 1 When the L.A. County seal was redesigned in 2004, the tiny cross (visible above the bandshell in the middle of the right side of the old seal) was removed because of an establishment-clause lawsuit threat from the ACLU.

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FIG. 2 Cartoon from UC-Berkeley's "Understanding Evolution" website. Plaintiff in Caldwell v. Caldwell alleged that this tax-funded website endorsed beliefs that evolution theory is compatible with religion while disapproving contrary beliefs.

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This is Part 1. Part 2 has been posted.

The 9th circuit court of appeals' Caldwell v. Caldwell decision is a travesty and we should make a really big stink about it that the courts won't forget. In Caldwell, the 9th circuit denied standing to plaintiff Jeanne Caldwell's challenge to UC-Berkeley's "Understanding Evolution" website discussed above in Fig. 2. But in Vasquez v. Los Angeles County 487 F.3d 1246 (9th Cir. 2007), the 9th circuit granted standing to a complaint that the new L.A. county seal in Fig. 1 is "an offensive anti-religious symbol" because the cross that was in the old seal was removed! Though the 9th circuit did finally rule that the Vasquez suit lacked merit, the court did give the case a lengthy "Lemon test" analysis. IMO the courts did not have grounds for denying standing in Vasquez but they spent far more time in judging the merits than the case deserved -- L.A. County never had an obligation to have a cross in the seal and the cross in the old seal actually gave Christianity a sort of favored position -- it was not really a favored position because the cross was a historical rather than a religious symbol -- so at worst Christianity lost its favored position. Also, there was no anti-religious message in the new seal itself -- the new seal was just a reminder that the cross had been removed. But if Vasquez was entitled to standing, then Jeanne Caldwell was certainly entitled to standing too. How arbitrary and capricious can the courts get? Denial of standing is often just a gimmick that judges use to dodge making decisions on the merits. Casey Luskin says that statements by one judge at an oral hearing hinted that Jeanne Caldwell's suit had merit:

So when there's this particular page which is the focus of this which says that religion and evolution are not incompatible, now is that a position taken by the museum, taken by the institution, the university? [19:40]

Does the [university] say this is not necessarily our position but this is a way that teachers have dealt with the problem? It doesn't say that . . . ." [20:24]

"If in fact this is the pronouncement of the government as to its view of religion, I think that that is a critical point" [20:55]

(a complete audio recording of the ~39-minute oral hearing is provided)

The Caldwell v. Caldwell opinion summarizes the case as follows (pages 3-4):
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We must decide whether Jeanne E. Caldwell, who asserts an interest in being informed about how teachers teach the theory of evolution in biology classes, has standing to pursue an Establishment Clause claim arising out of her offense at the discussion of religious views on the “Understanding Evolution” website created and maintained by the University of California Museum of Paleontology and funded in part by the National Science Foundation. She avers that the website endorses beliefs which hold that religion is compatible with evolutionary theory and disapproves beliefs, such as her own, that are to the contrary, thereby exposing her to government endorsed religious messages and making her feel like an outsider. In a published opinion, the district court concluded that Caldwell’s allegations state only a generalized grievance insufficient for injury in fact, and dismissed the complaint. Caldwell v. Caldwell, 420 F.Supp.2d 1102, 1007 (N.D. Cal. 2006). We also conclude that the harm asserted by Caldwell to her interest in being informed about the teaching of evolutionary theory is too generalized and remote to confer standing against the University of California faculty who administer the website and develop its content on behalf of the Museum of Paleontology. Caldwell’s complaint against the Director of the National Science Foundation has become moot since her appeal was taken. Therefore, we affirm.

Caldwell v. Caldwell has the following discussion (page 10) about Vasquez v. Los Angeles County 487 F.3d 1246(9th Cir. 2007) --

In Vasquez v. Los Angeles County, a county employee was forced to have daily contact with a county seal from which a cross had been removed and which he regarded, for this reason, as an offensive anti-religious symbol. 487 F.3d 1246, 1249 (9th Cir. 2007). We held that Vasquez had standing even though he had taken no affirmative steps to avoid areas where the symbol was located; we did not think it necessary to require a change of behavior — in his case, to quit his job — in order to vindicate spiritual harm from unwelcome direct contact with an allegedly offensive religious (or anti-religious) symbol. Nor did we think Vasquez’s contact with the symbol too tenuous, indirect, or abstract to give rise to Article III standing given that he held himself out as a member of the community where the seal was located, as someone forced into frequent regular contact with it, and as someone directly affected by unwelcome direct contact with a symbol that was pervasively on display. We thought Valley Forge distinguishable in this respect, because the plaintiffs there were physically removed from the allegedly unconstitutional conduct, and because Vasquez had alleged more than “a mere abstract objection” to removal of the cross from the county seal. Id. at 1251 (quoting Suhre v. Haywood County, 131 F.3d 1083, 1086 (4th Cir. 1997)).

I previously noted that though the district court's dismissal of Caldwell v. Caldwell was partly based on an alleged lack of taxpayer standing, the taxpayer standing issue was inexplicably ignored in the appeals court decision -- the appeals court opinion said (page 6), "The district court held that Caldwell failed to make out taxpayer standing with respect to both the federal and state parties, an issue that is not appealed." I discuss the district court decision here.

There are now three possibilities:

(1) A petition for a rehearing by the original 3-judge panel

(2) A petition for an en banc rehearing (full-court rehearing -- actually just a partial-court 11-judge rehearing in the 9th circuit). It takes just one judge to request a vote on whether to hold a rehearing. An en banc rehearing is held if a majority of the circuit's active judges vote in favor of it.

(3) An appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Caldwell v. Caldwell suit was filed three years ago, so the wheels of injustice turn very slowly. That is an awfully long time to reach an appeals court decision for this case, especially considering that the case has a high profile (it has been in the news and the district court decision was published and the appeals court decision is going to be published, though relatively few court decisions are published) and was a fairly simple and straightforward case. So imagine what the judges do to low profile cases -- they don't even bother to read the briefs. In my first smog impact fee lawsuit in the federal courts, there was no oral hearing and no opinion at either the district court or appeals court levels. I was later vindicated when the state courts declared the fee to be unconstitutional and an expert testified in state court that the fee required the approval of the US Environmental Protection Agency, showing that my case belonged in federal court. People who go to the time, effort, and expense of suing in the courts are entitled to more than a brush-off.

I have more things that I want to say about Caldwell v. Caldwell and I may post them either in the comment thread here or in a new post.
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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The flat-earth straw man

The mythological notion that medieval Christians believed that the earth is flat is one of the Darwinists' favorite straw men and they don't realize how ignorant and foolish they look when they repeat this myth. Trolls have repeated the myth many times on this blog. A historian at the Univ. of Calif. - Santa Barbara said,

It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat . . . (emphasis in original)

. . . . Historians of science have been proving this point for at least 70 years (most recently Edward Grant, David Lindberg, Daniel Woodward, and Robert S. Westman), without making notable headway against the error. Schoolchildren in the US, Europe, and Japan are for the most part being taught the same old nonsense . . .

. . . No one before the 1830s believed that medieval people thought that the earth was flat.

The idea was established, almost contemporaneously, by a Frenchman and an American, between whom I have not been able to establish a connection, though they were both in Paris at the same time. One was Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), an academic of strong antireligious prejudices who had studied both geography and patristics and who cleverly drew upon both to misrepresent the church fathers and their medieval successors as believing in a flat earth, in his On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers (1834). The American was no other than our beloved storyteller Washington Irving (1783-1859), who loved to write historical fiction under the guise of history. His misrepresentations of the history of early New York City and of the life of Washington were topped by his history of Christopher Columbus (1828). It was he who invented the indelible picture of the young Columbus, a "simple mariner," appearing before a dark crowd of benighted inquisitors and hooded theologians at a council of Salamanca, all of whom believed, according to Irving, that the earth was flat like a plate.

This medieval belief that the earth is flat has as much factual basis as Washington Irving's headless horseman.

I remember being taught that Columbus's crews almost mutinied because they were afraid that they would sail off the end of the earth and that Columbus bravely told them, "sail on." I first realized that the flat-earth story was fishy when I learned that the ancient Greeks estimated the size of the earth by measuring the angles of shadows cast at noon-time at the same time of year by sticks at two different latitudes. I just mistakenly assumed that this knowledge was lost during the Middle Ages, but now I know the truth.

But now, why did the false accounts of Letronne and Irving become melded and then, as early as the 1860s, begin to be served up in schools and in schoolbooks as the solemn truth?

The answer is that the falsehood about the spherical earth became a colorful and unforgettable part of a larger falsehood: the falsehood of the eternal war between science (good) and religion (bad) throughout Western history. This vast web of falsehood was invented and propagated by the influential historian John Draper (1811-1882) and many prestigious followers, such as Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the president of Cornell University, who made sure that the false account was perpetrated in texts, encyclopedias, and even allegedly serious scholarship, down to the present day. A lively current version of the lie can be found in Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers, found in any bookshop or library.

The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful, if not elegant: "Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as those idiots who for at least a thousand years denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you get?"

Even with the power of the Internet to spread refutations of this mythological flat-earth story, Darwinists continue to frequently repeat the story. They should stick to their straw man argument that Darwin doubters think that 2 + 2 = 5 -- at least that argument only makes the Darwinists look stupid and does not make them look ignorant too.

This blog has a previous article about the flat-earth straw man.
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Op-ed says Texas school board should not kowtow to Darwinist biologists

An Austin-American Statesman op-ed titled "Don't automatically defer to biologists when it comes to curriculum" says,

. . . . biologists still . . . . have not established a persuasive educational argument as to why religion should be banned from discussions of science . . . .

. . . . Many questions remain unanswered by the biologists who seem most interested in trying to control curriculum. Why do biologists assume they are experts in curriculum when they are not? Why are biologists afraid to broach the exciting intellectual problems surrounding the relationship between faith and science? Why not discuss the history of biology as a discipline and how the field's approach to this problem has evolved over time? Why not discuss with students why biologists tend to operate within a naturalistic framework, including the benefits and limitations of the framework?

Establishment clause considerations aside, IMO religion should not be an official part of public-school science curricula -- with the exception of evolution disclaimer statements -- because (1) some teachers and students might feel uncomfortable dealing with religion in a science class and (2) teaching religion in a science class could degenerate into sectarian proselytization. However, the issue here is not just science v. religion, because some scientific and pseudoscientific criticisms (or weaknesses) of evolution are not religious at all. Teaching scientific and pseudoscientific criticisms of evolution serves the bona fide secular purposes of broadening students' education, encouraging critical thinking, helping students learn the material, and increasing student interest. Also, some scientific and pseudoscientific criticisms of evolution -- e.g., criticisms concerning (1) the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and (2) the genetics of propagation of beneficial mutations in sexual reproduction -- are so technically sophisticated that they can be properly taught only by qualified science teachers and should not be taught by laypeople, e.g, typical parents and typical non-science schoolteachers. This stuff is not just "poof"-type creationism.

The op-ed says,

Until these questions are addressed persuasively by biologists, state leaders need to look to a broad range of university specialists to find the leadership necessary to provide a well-rounded, liberating education to all Texas students.

On one point I certainly agree with the op-ed: the Texas board of education should not kowtow to dogmatic Darwinist scientists, who have their own ax to grind. And as I remember, the last time a government deferred to Darwinist scientists' opinions as to what is best for society was when the Nazis put people in concentration camps, gas chambers, and crematorium ovens.
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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Scientists' own inconsistencies raise skepticism of Darwinism

Darwinists argue that there are no weaknesses in the evidence for evolution theory, but a look through the stacks of literature that they present as physical exhibits of evidence shows that this is not the case -- what was once believed to be firm evidence for evolution has been questioned by scientists. One scientific paper says, "Discovery Strengthens Evolutionary Link Between Birds And Dinosaurs," and then another scientific paper says, "Scientists Say No Evidence Exists That Therapod Dinosaurs Evolved Into Birds." Often different scientists draw different conclusions from the same evidence. The following papers are just a sample:

International Research Team Announces Discovery Of Two Species Of Feathered Dinosaurs

ScienceDaily (June 30, 1998) — Discovery Strengthens Evolutionary Link Between Birds And Dinosaurs

A team of scientists announced last week (June 23) in Nature the discovery in northeastern China of two 120-million-year-old dinosaur species, both of which show unequivocal evidence of true feathers. Both remarkable new creatures provide further support for the theory that birds evolved from small, meat-eating, ground-dwelling dinosaurs and give new insights into the origin of birds

Scientists Say No Evidence Exists That Therapod Dinosaurs Evolved Into Birds

ScienceDaily (Oct. 10, 2005) —

CHAPEL HILL -- No good evidence exists that fossilized structures found in China and which some paleontologists claim are the earliest known rudimentary feathers were really feathers at all, a renowned ornithologist says. Instead, the fossilized patterns appear to be bits of decomposed skin and supporting tissues that just happen to resemble feathers to a modest degree.

Embryo Studies Show Dinosaurs Could Not Have Given Rise To Modern Birds

ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 1997)

CHAPEL HILL -- Careful study of bird, alligator and turtle embryos at early stages offer convincing evidence that the "fingers" of bird wings correspond to the index, middle and ring fingers of humans, while the little finger and "thumb" have been lost.

Such developmental evidence of digit identity conflicts with the theory that modern birds arose from dinosaurs as some paleontologists have claimed since the 1970s. Dinosaurs had "fingers" corresponding to the first, second and third fingers on human hands, and as a result, it is almost impossible to envision how a bird wing could have evolved from a dinosaur hand.

Scientist Says Ostrich Study Confirms Bird "Hands" Unlike Those Of Dinosaurs

ScienceDaily (Aug. 15, 2002) —

CHAPEL HILL -- To make an omelet, you need to break some eggs. Not nearly so well known is that breaking eggs also can lead to new information about the evolution of birds and dinosaurs, a topic of hot debate among leading biologists. Drs. Alan Feduccia and Julie Nowicki of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have done just that. They opened a series of live ostrich eggs at various stages of development and found what they believe is proof that birds could not have descended from dinosaurs. They also discovered the first concrete evidence of a thumb in birds.

New Sickle-Clawed Fossil From Madagascar Links Birds And Dinosaurs

ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 1998) — FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 17 MARCH 1998

A new raven-sized fossil bird, showing clear evidence of the close relationship between theropod dinosaurs and birds, has been discovered on the island of Madagascar by scientists working under a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

West Australian Fossil Find Rewrites Land Mammal Evolution

ScienceDaily (Oct. 19, 2006) — A fossil fish discovered in the West Australian Kimberley has been identified as the missing clue in vertebrate evolution, rewriting a century-old theory on how the first land animals evolved.

Monash University PhD students Mr Erich Fitzgerald and Mr Tim Holland were part of the research team, led by Museum Victoria's Head of Science Dr John Long, that made the spectacular discovery by studying a 380 million-year-old fossil fish called Gogonasus, or Gogo fish, named after Gogo Station in Western Australia where it was found.

The fossil skeleton shows the fish's skull had large holes for breathing through the top of the head but importantly also had muscular front fins with a well-formed humerus, ulna and radius - the same bones are found in the human arm.

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Yoko Ono, record companies drop suits against "Expelled"

Great news! Both the federal-court and state-court copyright infringement lawsuits against Premise Media, the producer of the movie "Expelled," have been dropped.

There once was a lady named Yoko,
who had a mind that was quite loco.
When she tried to sue,
she later did rue,
'cause the lawyers she faced were pro bono.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Lawsuit against UC evolution website dismissed by appeals court




Cartoon in challenged UC-Berkeley evolution website.






The 9th Circuit court of appeals has dismissed an establishment clause lawsuit -- Caldwell v. Caldwell -- against a UC-Berkeley evolution website called "Understanding Evolution." The National Center for Science Education has the story. I have previously written about the case [1] [2] [3] . The appeals court's opinion is here.
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Oddly, though the district court dismissed the case partly on the basis of an alleged lack of taxpayer standing, the taxpayer standing issue was ignored in the appeals court decision. The appeals court opinion said (page 6), "The district court held that Caldwell failed to make out taxpayer standing with respect to both the federal and state parties, an issue that is not appealed." Sheeesh, how could that issue not be appealed if that issue was part of the basis for the dismissal by the district court?

Basically, the appeals court's dismissal was based on a decision that the violation of plaintiff Caldwell's imaginary "right to not be offended" was not strong enough to be considered to be an "injury-in-fact" strong enough to justify granting standing to sue. Of course, the "right to not be offended" is not in the Constitution -- it is a right that has been invented by the courts. The problem is not that the courts have invented this right -- the problem is that this right is granted by the courts in a discriminatory fashion. The courts have decided that in some cases, violation of this "right to not be offended" is a sufficient "injury-in-fact," and in other cases a violation of this right is not a sufficient injury-in-fact. The distinctions between these two kinds of cases are completely arbitrary and subjective. For example, in the evolution disclaimer cases of Kitzmiller v. Dover and Selman v. Cobb County, the courts arbitrarily decided that violation of the plaintiffs' "right to not be offended" was a strong enough "injury-in-fact" to justify granting standing to sue.

The courts have also made a mess of the taxpayer standing issue. One reason why taxpayer standing should not be an issue in establishment clause cases is that some establishment clause cases involve tax funds while others do not -- for example, some religious symbols on public property are tax-funded and some are privately-funded.

There is a general rule against taxpayer standing but the Supreme Court arbitrarily decided in Flast v. Cohen to grant taxpayer standing for establishment clause lawsuits. The Supreme Court got even more arbitrary when it decided in Hein v. Freedom of Religion Foundation that there would be taxpayer standing in cases involving Congressional allocations of tax funds but not in cases involving executive-branch allocations of tax funds. For discussions of Flast and Hein on this blog, see -- [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10].
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Monday, October 06, 2008

Casey Luskin slams Wickedpedia again

Note: I just about finished writing this article when I discovered that I covered this material before [1] [2] [3] (the Casey Luskin quote below was borrowed from a magazine article he wrote), but I decided to post this article anyway.

In a recent article on Evolution News & Views, Casey Luskin said,

There’s one last tale to be told regarding the Kitzmiller lawsuit and the banning of ID. Wikipedia has developed a reputation for being a biased and inaccurate source, especially when it comes to controversial issues such as ID. After the ACLU banned Of "Pandas and People" from Dover science classrooms, one Wikipedia user dared to take seriously Wikipedia’s encouragement to be "bold when updating articles”: He added the Pandas textbook to a page listing banned books.

Anticipating the intellectual lure of banned ideas, Wikipedia’s editors then removed the Pandas textbook from the banned-books page and locked the page from further edits, alleging it had been "vandalized.” Pointing out that ID has been banned is called a Wiki-crime, and banned pro-ID textbooks apparently must be banned from pages listing banned books.

Actually, a number of Wikipedia users tried to add "Of Pandas and People" to the list of banned books and I was one of them. The debate over whether to add the book is here, here and here. This debate has good examples of what radio talk show host Bill Greene called the "lawyering to death" by Wickedpedian control-freak administrators. According to the Wickedpedia rules, a statement that "bears shit in the woods" represents "original research" unless verified by a "reliable non-partisan source," and without such verification the statement may not be added to a Wikipedia article even if a note is added that the statement has not been verified. I am not exaggerating.

The hypocritical Darwinist scumbags want to have it both ways: They brag that they succeeded in getting "Of Pandas and People" banned but they don't want the book to be included in a list of banned books because that would imply that the Darwinists believe in the censorship of ideas, and heavens, we can't have that, can we?

You can't tell me, you lousy trolls, that Wikipedia does not have a bad reputation, considering that so many teachers and schools have banned Wikipedia as a primary source for student research and when at least one school district went so far as to block Wikipedia from all of the district's computers. Previously I thought that blocking Wikipedia altogether on school computers was a bad idea because Wikipedia is often a good source of information on non-controversial subjects and a good source of references, but sometimes even Wikipedia's reference lists are biased (for example, Wikipedia censored a link to the Discovery Institute's rebuttal of a Wikipedia article that criticizes a DI report on Judge Jones' wholesale cribbing from an ACLU brief), so why take the risk? Wickedpedia's arbitrary censorship has also turned off a lot of would-be contributors -- what people in their right minds would want to volunteer time and effort to help build an encyclopedia that practices arbitrary censorship?

Once a reputation is lost, it can be impossible to regain it. Wikipedia could promise today to stop the arbitrary censorship, but how many people would hear such a promise and how many people would believe it? Wikipedia could try to show its good faith by providing many examples of not arbitrarily censoring contributions, but it would be like trying to prove a mathematical proposition by showing examples -- we can never run out of examples.
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Article says that evolution theory is not predictive

An article in The Scientist magazine says that evolution theory is not predictive (you will need to register or be a subscriber to see the full article):

Biology certainly has a lot of experimental data on which we could build a unified foundation. We even have functional philosophies in the form of empiricism and the scientific method. However, we are woefully short on quantitative biological theories or logical or mathematical frameworks by which we could generate testable predictions in the way that relativity and quantum theory did.

There have been attempts to generate a theoretical framework for some aspects of biology, such as "metabolic theory," 1 but these tend to be focused on explaining a subset of biological phenomena based on underlying physical constraints. Evolution is the most general theory we have, but it serves mostly to explain how life arrived where it is today, rather than predict outcomes of our laboratory experiments.
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Many biologists feel that there never will be a theoretical biology that is predictive. The late and great Stephen Jay Gould alluded to this idea when he frequently stated that life is a "contingent outcome of history." In other words, if you replayed the history of life on earth multiple times, you would get different results. If evolution itself is not predictable, can we really create a biological theory that predicts outcomes from first principles?

Also, the article has none of that claptrap about evolution unifying biology or being central to biology or biology not making sense without evolution.

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