Archive for the 'Creationism/ID' Category

May 16 2013

An Interview with Don McLeroy, Part III

This week I am posting a discussion with Don McLeroy, a young Earth creationist and former chairman of the Texas Board of Education during the recent controversy over the science textbook standards. This is a follow up to an interview I did with him on the SGU.

Don has been traveling a bit this week, so our e-mail conversation has been slow, but we have had a few exchanges. For today’s post I want to simply reprint that exchange and then add a few thoughts, before I go onto new territory, which I will do in tomorrow’s post.

Here is Don’s response to my prior posts:

Steven,

I do have time for one reply.

First, you keep bringing up creationism while I do not; I am only discussing the evidence for evolution–the idea that all life is descended from a common ancestor as a result of unguided natural processes.

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May 14 2013

An Interview with Don McLeroy, Part II

In part I of my analysis of a recent interview with Don McLeroy on the SGU I discussed his assertion that those of faith are more free to accept or reject the evidence for evolution, while strict materialists can only accept it as it is the only materialist option. I mentioned in that post that I would invite Don to respond – I did and he did.

In this post I will include Don’s response and then my further analysis of his response. I will then extend the discussion to other points that Don raised during the SGU interview.

Don McLeroy Responds to Part I

Steven,

Thank you for this opportunity to respond.

We are mirror images of each other. I see you as you see me-as “an excellent example of the power of motivated reasoning,” as “firmly in phase 2,” and as someone who might be considered “embedded” in a culture of their own publications, institutions, and websites.

At least we both agree to follow the evidence where ever it leads.

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May 13 2013

An Interview with Don McLeroy, Part I

Published by under Creationism/ID

On the SGU this week we did an interview with Don McLeroy, the former chairman of the Texas School Board of Education, famous for his (successful) attempts to insert wording into the science textbook standards that would open the door for creationist arguments.

The interview was very enlightening. In my opinion it was an excellent example of the power of motivated reasoning – if we have a conclusion in mind, people are very good at finding a mental path to get there.

We rarely do confrontational interviews on the SGU, but the few we have done I am generally happy with. The risk is that the tone of the interview will go sour. I have only done such interviews when I feel that the person being interviewed will be able to stay calm and professional even as we dismantle their position. Another risk is that the interviewee, who likely is a passionate and eloquent defender of their fringe position, will make it difficult to get a word in edgewise, resulting in a Gish Gallop.

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May 10 2013

Separation of Church and State

A comment on my recent post about Backdoor Creationism calls into question the premise that the US Constitution demands separation of church and state, and therefore religious beliefs cannot be taught in public schools. The comment reads:

The first amendment states that the federal government can neither (sic) or prohibit the exercise of religion. “separation of church and state” is just a propaganda term used by some to stave off religious nuts who use undue social pressures or indoctrination to push their beliefs to others.

Here’s a section of the first amendment.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

And here’s the definition of the word “respecting” from a dictionary dated 5 years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

RESPECT’ING, ppr. Regarding; having regard to ; relating to.

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Apr 26 2013

Backdoor Creationism

Proponents of creationism have essentially been banned from the public school science classroom. A series of court decisions has created a clear precedence that doing so violates the Constitutional separation of church and state. However, no one really expected them to quietly go away. They have taken on a series of strategies to continue their efforts to teach their particular religious faith as science in the public schools.

They endlessly are seeking end-runs around the Constitution. First they tried “creation science,” and then “intelligent design,” but these were both transparently just religious faith crudely dressed up as science. Now they are still trying “teach the controversy” and “teach the strengths and weakness of evolution.” Both have had some limited success, but I predict will also eventually die a legal death.

Another strategy is to simply ignore the law and teach creationism anyway. In highly fundamentalist Christian communities there’s no one to blow the whistle, and no one to listen. A recent survey found that 13% of public schools teach creationism outright, while 60% avoid controversy by promoting neither evolution nor creationism. Only 28% teach evolution as the unifying theory of biology (as it should be taught).

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Apr 19 2013

Jindal – Teach the Controversy

“Bottom line, at the end of the day, we want our kids to be exposed to the best facts. Let’s teach them about the big bang theory, let’s teach them about evolution…”

Not a bad sentiment so far. I don’t think I would have used the term, “best facts.” It’s a bit awkward, and more importantly science is not just about facts, it’s about how we know what we know, and the interaction of facts and data with hypotheses and theories.

This is not quibbling. A public figure with responsibilities toward public science education should have a thorough and nuanced understanding of science education.

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Feb 05 2013

Transition Denial and Feathered Dinosaurs

Published by under Creationism/ID

There are a few areas of evolutionary biology that particularly fascinate me, partly because they represent such a dramatic example of large-scale (macro) evolutionary change. The evolution of whales from terrestrial mammals and of humans from ape ancestors are two of my favorites. But perhaps more dramatic still is the evolution of birds from theropod dinosaurs.

Each discovery of a feathered dinosaur or bird ancestor is a lance straight through the heart of creationist denial of evolution. I have to admit it’s fun to watch prominent creationists squirm when confronted with such clear evidence of transitional forms and evolutionary change – not that they flinch in their denial, but their protestations do become increasingly shrill and desperate.

Welcome Eosinopteryx brevipenna, the latest feathered dinosaur discovered in China. This little guy had feathers, although described as “reduced plumage”, stubby wings (and so was probably flightless), a bony tail, teeth, and clawed fingers. It also lacked many modern bird features, such as bony features that would have allowed for full flapping flight. Its feet were clearly adapted for running.

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Jan 04 2013

Responding to Commenters on Created History

“I Woke Up This Morning, And I Realized That Somebody Had Broken Into My Apartment, Stolen All My Things And Replaced Them With Exact Duplicates.”

- Comedian Steven Wright

Yesterday I wrote about the young earth creationist argument that, even though the universe is only 6-10 thousand years old, we can see light from stars billions of light years away because God created the light already on its way to earth. I pointed out that this argument requires that God also created an entire fake history of the universe, including light from supernova that never occurred of stars that never existed. The one-liner above, delivered dead-pan in the style of Steven Wright, is funny because we intuitively realize the absurdity of the statement. How would one know, and even if it were true, what’s the difference?

The post inspired some interesting comments, and sometimes I like to respond to comments in a separate post. One of the things I enjoy about blogging as a literary form is its interactive nature. I always find it more interesting to respond to the arguments of others rather than just give a monologue or lecture. I find it more effective as a teaching tool, because you are confronting specific thought processes and resolving differences of reasoning. For convenience I will include only the section of each comment I will be responding to. You can browse through the comments to the original post if you want to see entire comments, who left them, and to respond directly to them if you wish.

So he says because a statement is nonfalsifiable it makes it untrue? There are plenty of nonfalsifiable statements that could be true or false. Evolutionists assume there can be no miraculous events, therefore no miraculous events occurred. Circular reasoning if you ask me.

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Jan 03 2013

Created History

Published by under Creationism/ID

Creationists are an endless source of logical fallacies and pseudoscience. There are several reasons for this – creationism is institutionalized motivated reasoning, they have had over a century to make up fallacious arguments, and evolutionary theory is complex and multifarious so there are many opportunities for distortion and error.

For this reason creationism is an excellent foil for learning critical thinking skills. But it is also challenging, because effectively countering creationist arguments often requires a thorough and accurate understanding of evolutionary theory, geology, paleontology, genetics, and even astronomy and physics, in addition to familiarity with creationist arguments themselves. Often the errors in logic and distortion of scientific facts are subtle or a few layers deep, and having only a superficial understanding of the arguments can get even scientists into trouble. This is partly why the infamous Duane Gish was so “successful” debating evolutionary scientists in public – they knew the science but they did not have a mastery over creationist nonsense.

A recent example of this, in my opinion, comes from debate.org. A debate was started by someone wishing to defend evolutionary theory who wished to focus on one issue (it’s always a good idea to keep any such debates as focused as possible). His position is this:

This is a debate that can take many forms and include many arguments, but I will simply make one observation that I think immediately decides the debate:

The fundamentalist idea that the universe is only a few thousand years old must also come with a denial of the known, immense distance between other galaxies and our own. If the cosmos were only a few thousand years old, and the speed of light is accepted as known, then we would have no way of seeing these very distant galaxies, the light from which having to had traveled billions of years to make them visible to us.”

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Dec 20 2012

Disco-Tute – Fake

Published by under Creationism/ID

The Orwellian-named “Discovery Institute” is an organization dedicated to the promotion of Intelligent Design (ID), which is little more than a superficial repackaging of long-discredited creationist arguments against evolutionary theory.They do not have a legitimate scientific program, although they desperately try to create the impression that they do.

In my opinion the Disco-Tute is founded on intellectual dishonesty. They are primarily a propaganda machine for pseudoscience. You might recall they funded the movie Expelled – which was an exercise in intellectual dishonesty from beginning to end. They deceived many of the scientists who they interviewed for the film, even going to the extent of creating a dummy production company as a front. The result was a hack-job of transparent propaganda.

Now another example of Disco-tute intellectual dishonesty has come to light, exposed by The Panda’s Thumb blog. This started with a critique of a new Disco-tute video on population genetics. It was noticed that the video is a green-screen shot with the Disco-tute scientician in front of an image of a laboratory. We are apparently meant to assume that she is in the Disco-tute labs where actual research is conducted. However, the image is a stock photo.

OK – this is a small deception, the kind of thing many video producers would do to create the right “look” for the video. It’s part of the culture of film-making – it doesn’t matter if it’s real, as long as it looks good. But this is not a sufficient excuse.

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