May 21 2015

Creationism – Are We Winning The Battle and Losing The War?

One of the major ambitions of my life is to promote science and critical thinking, which I do under the related banners of scientific skepticism and science-based medicine. This is a huge endeavor, with many layers of complexity. For that reason it is tempting to keep one’s head down, focus on small manageable problems and goals, and not worry too much about the big picture. Worrying about the big picture causes stress and anxiety.

I have been doing this too long to keep my head down, however. I have to worry about the big picture: are we making progress, are we doing it right, how should we alter our strategy, is there anything we are missing?

The answers to these questions are different for each topic we face. While we are involved in one large meta-goal, it is composed of hundreds of sub-goals, each of which may pose their own challenges. Creationism, for example, is one specific topic that we confront within our broader mission or promoting science.

Over my life the defenders of science have won every major battle against creationism, in the form of major court battles, many at the supreme court level. The most recent was Kitzmiller vs Dover, which effectively killed  Intelligent Design as a strategy for pushing creationism into public schools. The courts are a great venue for the side of science, because of the separation clause in the constitution and the way it has been interpreted by the courts. Creationism is a religious belief, pure and simple, and it has no place in a science classroom. Evolution, meanwhile, is an established scientific theory with overwhelming support in the scientific community. It is the exact kind of consensus science that should be taught in the classroom. When we have this debate in the courtroom, where there are rules of evidence and logic, it’s no contest. Logic, facts, and the law are clearly on the side of evolution.

Despite the consistent legal defeat of creationism, over the last 30 years Gallup’s poll of American public belief in creationism has not changed. In 1982 44% of Americans endorsed the statement: “God created humans in their present form.” In 2014 the figure was 42%; in between the figure fluctuated from 40-47% without any trend.

There has been a trend in the number of people willing to endorse the statement that humans evolved without any involvement from God, with an increase from 9 to 19%. This likely reflects a general trend, especially in younger people, away from religious affiliation – but apparently not penetrating the fundamentalist Christian segments of society.

Meanwhile creationism has become, if anything, more of an issue for the Republican party. It seems that any Republican primary candidate must either endorse creationism or at least pander with evasive answers such as, “I am not a scientist” or “teach the controversy” or something similar.

Further, in many parts of the country with a strong fundamentalist Christian population, they are simply ignoring the law with impunity and teaching outright creationism, or at least the made-up “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory. They are receiving cover from pandering or believing politicians. This is the latest creationist strategy – use “academic freedom” laws to provide cover for teachers who want to introduce creationist propaganda into their science classrooms.

Louisiana is the model for this. Zack Kopplin, who was a high school student when Bobby Jindal signed the law that allows teachers to introduce creationist material into Louisiana classrooms. He has since made it his mission to oppose such laws, and he writes about his frustrations in trying to make any progress. Creationists are simply too politically powerful in the Bible belt.

This brings me back to my core question – how are we doing (at least with respect to the creationism issue)? The battles we have fought needed to be fought and it is definitely a good thing that science and reason won. There are now powerful legal precedents defending the teaching of evolution and opposing the teaching of creationism in public schools, and I don’t mean to diminish the meaning of these victories.

But we have not penetrated in the slightest the creationist culture and political power, which remains solid at around 42% of the US population. It seems to me that the problem is self-perpetuating. Students raised in schools that teach creationism or watered-down evolution and live in families and go to churches that preach creationism are very likely to grow up to be creationists. Some of them will be teachers and politicians.

From one perspective we might say that we held the line defensively against a creationist offense, but that is all – we held the line. Perhaps we need to now figure out a way to go on offense, rather than just waiting to defend against the next creationist offense. The creationists have think tanks who spend their time thinking about the next strategy. At best we have people and organizations (like the excellent National Center for Science Education) who spend their time trying to anticipate the next strategy.

The NCSE’s own description of their mission is, “Defending the teaching of evolution and climate science.” They are in a defensive posture. Again, to be clear, they do excellent and much needed work and I have nothing but praise for them. But looking at the big picture, perhaps we need to add some offensive strategies to our defensive strategies.

I don’t know exactly what form those offensive strategies would take. This would be a great conversation for skeptics to have, however. Rather than just fighting against creationist laws, for example, perhaps we could craft a model pro-science law that will make it more difficult for science teachers to hide their teaching of creationism. Perhaps we need a federal law to trump any pro-creationist state laws. It’s worth thinking about.

I also think we need a cultural change within the fundamentalist Christian community. This will be a tougher nut to crack. We should, however, be having a conversation with them about how Christian faith can be compatible with science. Faith does not have to directly conflict with the current findings of science. Modeling ways in which Christians can accommodate their faith to science may be helpful. And to be clear – I am not saying that science should accommodate itself to faith, that is exactly what we are fighting against.

Conclusion

As the skeptical movement grows and evolves, I would like to see it mature in the direction where high-level strategizing on major issues can occur. It is still very much a grassroots movement without any real organization. At best there is networking going on, and perhaps that is enough. At the very least we should parlay those networks into goal-oriented strategies on specific issues.

Creationism is one such issue that needs some high-level think tank attention.

120 responses so far

120 Responses to “Creationism – Are We Winning The Battle and Losing The War?”

  1. carbonUniton 21 May 2015 at 9:40 am

    Waging war is “easy”. Fighting ideas is HARD. We can’t even seem to make a dent in the climate change deniers and that’s not even based on religion!

    I’m trying to find more time to contact my representatives. They have to hear from us!! Although still minority, I wonder at what point the “nones” become a factor they can’t ignore.

  2. magsolon 21 May 2015 at 9:42 am

    We should, however, be having a conversation with them about how Christian faith can be compatible with science. Faith does not have to directly conflict with the current findings of science.

    I consider myself a practicing Catholic (attend church weekly) and also a student of the sciences (professor at an R1 university), and frankly see no conflict between faith and science. Perhaps some will argue that my faith precludes me from being a “true” skeptic, but I find I have much more in common intellectually with skeptics, atheists, and agnostics than many of my Catholic brethren, and especially fundamentalist Christians.

    One of the many reasons I have nonetheless stuck with Catholicism over the years, despite its [many] [obvious] imperfections, is because so much of its foundational theories were conceived by people who were typically not only brilliant theologians, but also preeminent contributors of scientific thought in their time. I do not think that is a coincidence; looking at the current pope, and the fact that Catholicism outright embraces evolution, I see great potential for further reform. I would like to think I can help with that, in my own way.

  3. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 9:45 am

    [I don’t know exactly what form those (pro-Darwinist) offensive strategies would take.]

    I’ve thought a lot about this issue as well. Who’s winning the war? I don’t know. It is certainly the case that the general public opinion about evolution, ID and creationism hasn’t changed dramatically. I think that in the end two factors will win out: first, the truth will become more clear, and be embraced more openly by scientists. I see the truth differently than most folks on this blog, but we probably agree that the truth is a good ally and will tend to win in the end.

    The second factor that will decide the outcome of this war is culture. People come at the Darwin/ID/creationism debate from their personal cultural perspective. Secularism has been having a run, but in the long run I suspect that religion will prevail. Whether in the West the prevailing religion will be Christianity or Islam or even some variant of Paganism is an open question, a question that ought to concern secularists quite a bit. Secularists may despise Christian “fundamentalists”, but secularism will not flourish in the Caliphate or the Reich, and at least the Christians don’t throw you off buildings.

    The one big mistake that secularists have made in this debate is the censorship in academia and in the courts. It has been a temporary expedient for the Darwinists, but the anger and resolve it has generated on the ID and creationist side is massive. It is the censorship that got me into this fight to begin with–I was outraged at the treatment of Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian.

    I note the irony that Steve has appropriately condemned SLAPP suits, but endorses dragging people who take different views on evolution into federal court to silence them. I know the reply will be “But the Constitution…” but that’s not true and that’s not the issue. It is censorship of criticism of Darwinism, under the guise of First Amendment jurisprudence, and it is reprehensible. It demeans science.

    It is that censorship that motivates many of us on the ID side of this. I like the winning cartoon about drawing Mohammed at that contest in Texas– the cartoon showed Mohammed, saying “You can’t draw me”, and the cartoonist saying “That’s why I draw you.”

    We feel the same way about Darwinist censorship. “You can’t criticize Darwinism” is is a big part of the reason we criticize Darwinism.

  4. Bruceon 21 May 2015 at 9:59 am

    It is always interesting to read about the Creationist debate in the USA as it feels a very long way from where we are here in the UK.

    “I also think we need a cultural change”

    I think you can end your sentence there. Granted, my knowledge of American culture is from afar and I could be going down the wrong track here, but it is always amusing to see almost all American tv shows have references to religion and promoting how good it is to pray to the Christian god. It is the exception to see that here in the UK and a lot of our television shows and tv icons are quite openly atheist and sceptical (not to mention nearly all prominent comedians).

    It also seems to me that Christian fundamentalism (or what looks like that from the outside) is protected and even encouraged under religious freedom laws, where-as here in the UK I feel there is actual emphasis put on diversity from a young age. I don’t think you will crack that 42% until fundamental things like the pledge of allegiance “One nation under god” has the last two words removed amongst many other things.

    I would also add, don’t write off that increase from 9% to 19%. That IS progress, it is creating a firm base and having 1 in 5 people endorsing evolution is much better than having only 1 in 10 people and much more chance of one of those people being in the right place to make a critical decision.

    Ultimately though, changing the culture of an organisation is hard enough if you have someone who wants change at the top and they are surrounded by those in agreement. The task is made order of magnitudes harder when you don’t have those key points of influence.

    (PS… surprised there was no Rob Stark reference here… man who won every battle but ultimately lost the war)

  5. Kieselguhr Kidon 21 May 2015 at 10:05 am

    I used to fret a lot about this issue in the early 2000’s, because there was this amazing flowering, post-Pim Stemmer and DNA shuffling, in directed-evolution type mechanisms, and startup companies based on bioprospecting and directed-evolution methodologies, under an administration and a national mood which seemed dead set against non-creationist ideas. Then a couple of years ago Erica Grieder wrote an article on the issue which sort of crystallized my thinking; it’s located here and I’d like to commend it: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2012/04/science-scepticism

    Ms. Grieder’s observations are congruent with my own in several years in deep-red country. I think useful takeaways here are: firstly, that creationists are not monolithic and some — obviously not all — of them may be amenable to supporting scientific inquiry when they have practical motivations or when respected scientists gently seek their aid. Secondly, I think the idea that such people somehow hold back or limit scientific progress substantially, is itself not much subject to skeptical inquiry: I have seen little proof of it, and indeed doubt it’s true in any significant way — which is to say, to the extent scientific progress is being held back by creationists, it’s probably a rounding error. Some of their kids seem to go on to become good scientists! Given that I can’t prove they’re actually doing me or my field any great hurt, I’m not inclined to wage a jihad on folks simply because they’re wrong.

  6. mumadaddon 21 May 2015 at 10:05 am

    michaelegnor,

    If you really want to get something into the science curriculum, then you need to get busy with doing the science. What is the scientific theory of ID? What testable predictions has it generated? Where are the volumes of converging evidence across multiple scientific disciplines?

  7. RickKon 21 May 2015 at 10:07 am

    There is no censorship. Scientists are perfectly capable of mounting scientifically-based, empirical, evidence-based arguments against evolutionary theory. In fact, it’s exactly that process that has found and corrected errors in Darwin’s original ideas, and has refined our understand of the facts of evolution.

    What is not allowed is the sort of faith-based, popular objections of which you and your ilk are so fond, Michael. You want a free pass. You want to say: “we don’t completely understand X therefore God.” And you cry “censorship” when your free pass is rejected. You don’t get to assume God and work backwards. That’s not science, and you know this.

    It is interesting that you bring up “courts”. That is another evidence-based forum outside of the scientific community. And it is another area where creationism (and it’s alias “Intelligent Design”) have failed spectacularly. Because your arguments fail to gain traction in any evidence-based forum is not a failure of the forums, it is a failure of your arguments.

    You can’t carry the day on evidence. You only carry the day on faith, which is a powerful motivator but a truly horrendous system of epistemology.

  8. edamameon 21 May 2015 at 10:07 am

    magsol makes a great point: perhaps the war analogy is the wrong one for us to be using.

    michaelegnor: nobody has ever said not to criticize Darwinism–that is a straw man. There are non-sectarian criticisms aplenty in evolutionary biology (e.g., debates about neutral evolution versus selection).

    What doesn’t have a place in science are supernatural explanations and obfuscatory crypto-sectarian arguments disguised as actual science. This is not some dogma, but a methodological heuristic that has justified itself a million fold, with roots that go back to the origins of modern science itself. To overcome this well-established, and well-justified, methodological constraint on the natural sciences, we will need more than hand-waving appeals to intuition driven by tenuous statistical arguments.

  9. edamameon 21 May 2015 at 10:09 am

    I should add that creationists show their true colors in their weird fetishistic focus on getting their views taught in public schools. No scientist does this.

  10. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 10:28 am

    @mumadadd:

    [If you really want to get something into the science curriculum, then you need to get busy with doing the science.]

    Sternberg got fired for doing that.

    [What is the scientific theory of ID? What testable predictions has it generated?]

    Superb questions. They should be asked in schools, universities, everywhere where biology is a topic. As it stands, Darwinists have gone to federal court to stop such questions from being asked in schools. I’m glad you agree that they are excellent questions. Why censor them?

    [Where are the volumes of converging evidence across multiple scientific disciplines?]

    Another great question. Why censor it?

    [It is interesting that you bring up “courts”. That is another evidence-based forum outside of the scientific community. And it is another area where creationism (and it’s alias “Intelligent Design”) have failed spectacularly. Because your arguments fail to gain traction in any evidence-based forum is not a failure of the forums, it is a failure of your arguments.]

    I was quite amazed, when I first got involved in this, how readily scientists used courts to censor scientific discussion. I have been raised and educated to believe that science was about open discussion of evidence. Why bring federal judges into it?

    Could you imagine Einstein dragging people who questioned Relativity into court to silence them?

    Using the courts to buttress your science demeans science. If the evidence and logic are on your side, you will prevail in an open debate.

  11. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 10:32 am

    @edamame:

    [nobody has ever said not to criticize Darwinism–that is a straw man.]

    The NCSE threatens litigation in schools that criticize Darwinism, and there are school districts that are under federal court order not to disparage Darwinism.

    Lots of people say not to criticize Darwinism. Astonishingly, many of them are scientists, and federal judges.

    Why the censorship? How does it differ, ethically, from SLAPP suits?

  12. RickKon 21 May 2015 at 10:40 am

    Kieselguhr Kid

    Good, practical points. Thanks for the link.

    I have a question – do you think the growing presence of classes on energy healing, Reiki, homeopathy, etc. in our medical institutions causes harm to or in some way erodes the quality of medical science?

    It’s true, evolution doesn’t affect our daily lives. But it seems to me that science does. And it matters if that science is taught and practiced either well or poorly. If we say “the creationists do no harm”, and that it’s ok for Louisiana science teachers to introduce materials produced by lobbying organizations like the Discovery Institute, doesn’t that make the gradual encroachment of popular but non-scientific ideas into our curricula more likely?

    Should there be a well-defended boundary? Should the boundary be at the science classroom door? And if not, then where?

  13. BBBlueon 21 May 2015 at 10:41 am

    Still struggling to remain a Republican, and this is the primary reason I have found it to be such a struggle. It would be amazing if a Republican candidate would state a clear understanding of and agreement with evolution and natural selection, but perhaps hell will freeze over first. However, Democrats should not be let off the hook.

    Democrats running for office, especially national office, do the same or similar dance, such as Hillary Clinton’s dog whistle of a statement: “…the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.”

    I find Democrat politicians’ pandering to religious interests almost as distasteful as attempts by Republican politicians to get creation into the classroom. Almost.

  14. RickKon 21 May 2015 at 10:52 am

    “Why bring federal judges into it?”

    Because that was the only way to stop people pushing thinly-veiled Biblical creationism into science classes with the help of religiously motivated school boards (and in the case of Dover, against the explicit objections of the actual science teachers).

  15. spartanhooahon 21 May 2015 at 10:56 am

    @micahelegnor

    Skeptics/scientists aren’t trying to censor creationism/ID. We’re trying to get it removed from the SCIENCE classroom, since it is based on a religious foundation, not a scientific one. I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it being taught in e.g. a religious studies class. Teaching subjects in the proper context is not censorship.

  16. Kestrelon 21 May 2015 at 10:57 am

    I don’t think the 42%-44% of Americans are creationists figure. I’d imagine that if you really delved into it, many of those so-called creationists are tepid believers at best, who just haven’t lifted a finger to educate themselves on the issue. Of course, I suppose the same could be said for many believers in evolution as well. Which leads me to what I think is the bigger issue – the vast, vast majority of people don’t know, and they just don’t care.

  17. RickKon 21 May 2015 at 11:02 am

    “Could you imagine Einstein dragging people who questioned Relativity into court to silence them?”

    Let’s see… Was the court case entitled “Kitzmiller v Meyer” or “Kitzmiller v Behe”?

    No, the legal decision was against the school board for introducing religious materials into a science class. And the NCSE is fighting similar battles – trying to keep the science classroom door closed to popular, non-scientific ideas promoted by people like you who are motivated not by evidence-based arguments, but by religious faith.

  18. Pete Aon 21 May 2015 at 11:05 am

    @michaelegnor,

    If I were to believe (as is my right) that the Sun is fuelled by coal and that the laws of physics are different on different planets, would it be okay to teach that in school science lessons? If not, why not?

  19. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 11:08 am

    @rickk

    [Because that was the only way to stop people pushing thinly-veiled Biblical creationism into science classes with the help of religiously motivated school boards…]

    If it really is thinly-veiled creationism, let it be exposed in open discussion. Don’t censor. Don’t bring courts into a scientific disagreement. As I noted, can you imagine any of the great scientists of the past–Maxwell, Plank, Einstein, Bohr–dragging their opponents into court to shut them up? You betray what is most admirable about science–the willingness to face and follow evidence, in open discussion, without censorship by force.

    @spartanhooah:

    [Skeptics/scientists aren’t trying to censor creationism/ID. We’re trying to get it removed from the SCIENCE classroom, since it is based on a religious foundation, not a scientific one]

    A fine argument to make to the school board, which can then decide, based on evidence and testimony, on the content of the science and social studies curriculum for their schools.

    My problem is the litigation and the invocation of courts, which is utterly alien to the scientific process. If you are right, and ID is bad science, it will be shown to be so in open discussion of the evidence. Why censor it? It makes it look like you’re afraid of it.

  20. Bruceon 21 May 2015 at 11:08 am

    @ michaelegnor

    You have your arguments all lined up and I think you actually believe them… however, there is still one major flaw in any argument you bring to the table:

    You have no evidence.

    Everything else is just bluster and you can dress it up however you want, but the teaching of a religious idea is not the same as teaching a scientific fact and it certainly does not hold the same weight.

    As for research censorship, I am pretty sure that any number of powerful religious organisations had ample opportunity to put their resources into exploring and researching evidence for ID and Creationism and still they come up with nothing. How is this so? Has the state and the scientific community somehow managed to quash every single attempt over the past hundreds of years? How come there is no evidence from before the idea of evolution came on the scene? Has that all been hidden too?

    You have no evidence.

  21. spartanhooahon 21 May 2015 at 11:12 am

    @michaelegnor
    “If you are right, and ID is bad science, it will be shown to be so in open discussion of the evidence. Why censor it? It makes it look like you’re afraid of it.”

    We aren’t afraid of it. And creationism has been shown to be bad science in the court of scientific discourse. Your claim seems to be equivalent to someone deciding that the Sun goes around the Earth and then complaining that their “theory” (used in the vernacular sense) doesn’t get any attention in a science classroom. Of course it doesn’t, because the public school classroom is for established science, not for fringe hypotheses, regardless of their origin.

  22. mumadaddon 21 May 2015 at 11:15 am

    “If it really is thinly-veiled creationism, let it be exposed in open discussion. Don’t censor. Don’t bring courts into a scientific disagreement.”

    It is not a scientific disagreement though. To have a scientific disagreement you need to have two opposing scientific viewpoints, not one scientific viewpoint versus x creation mythology with no scientific basis at all. To extend your logic, like PeteA intimated, all ideas pertaining to the nature and origins of reality should be given equal consideration in science class. This is blatantly absurd – surely you can see this?

  23. Bruceon 21 May 2015 at 11:19 am

    @michaelegnor

    You would have a point if this was a new debate… it is not. It is no longer a debate, the science is settled and has been for a very long time.

    You have no evidence.

  24. mumadaddon 21 May 2015 at 11:23 am

    And instead of complimenting my questions, why not answer them? Outline the scientific theory of ID – just a sketch will do. List even a few testable predictions that have been generated by this theory. Summarise the lines of evidence for ID. We’ll wait patiently…

  25. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 11:26 am

    @Bruce:

    [You have no evidence… You have no evidence]

    Then show that to be the case, in open discussion, in public schools, universities, everywhere.

    Censorship is a tactic of people who are concerned that they won’t prevail. If you’re confident that there is no evidence, why don’t you want to talk about it in schools?

    @spartanhooah:

    [equivalent to someone deciding that the Sun goes around the Earth and then complaining that their “theory” (used in the vernacular sense) doesn’t get any attention in a science classroom]

    But geocentrism does get attention in the classroom, at least if earth science is taught right. Teachers explain the evidence for and against geocentrism and heliocentrism, showing students how the earlier geocentric view was replaced by the correct heliocentric view based on evidence. It’s actually a very interesting story (involving stellar parallax, etc) and is a wonderful way to introduce students to scientific reasoning.

    Judicial decisions aren’t scientific reasoning. Teach students how science is done–and that includes teaching about theories that you believe are wrong. Especially, it involves teaching students about theories that are wrong, because correcting (not censoring) wrong theories is what science is all about.

  26. mumadaddon 21 May 2015 at 11:33 am

    “If you’re confident that there is no evidence, why don’t you want to talk about it in schools?”

    Why spend limited time and resources discussing failed hypotheses in school science classes? If you approve this in principle you open the door to spending the bulk of primary science education on non-science or failed science. Or is your ideology somehow an exception, a failed hypothesis that deserves special attention? If so, why?

  27. bendon 21 May 2015 at 11:35 am

    “Teach the controversy.” When I was in high school bio, I had a teacher who did just this and did so amazingly. After spending 3 hours (2 days) on natural selection he spent the last 1.5 hours of the week teaching about alternative theories. He talked about Lamarck. He talked about creationism. He talked about Aliens splicing their own DNA into primitive apes to generate semi-intelligent slaves (humans). And he made it clear that these alternatives to evolution all had the same level of scientific validity. A devout Mormon, like most of the community in which he taught, and occupying a leadership role in his congregation, he apparently never sparked much controversy.

  28. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 11:35 am

    @mumadadd:

    [And instead of complimenting my questions, why not answer them? Outline the scientific theory of ID – just a sketch will do.]

    It’s a great question. I still don’t understand why you go to court to make sure students aren’t allowed to ask it.

    My own take on ID is Thomist. I differ with many of my friends in the ID movement, some of whom take more of a Paleyean view. I certainly have no problem with evolution understood as change in populations over time–the evidence for that is clear. I disagree that the variation that gives rise to it is “random”, and I disagree that natural selection is a meaningful scientific concept (I take the view of Jerry Fodor in his book “What Darwin Got Wrong”).

    I believe in teleology– that there is directedness and purpose in natural change. My view is basically that of the Catholic Church, which is quite supportive of many aspects of modern evolutinary theory.

    The evidence for my view is logical and philosophical more than empirical. I take a hylemorphic view of nature–Aristotle’s four causes.

    I think that the Darwinism-ID debate is fundamentally a metaphysical debate, more than a scientific debate. And I think that students should be made aware of this debate in schools.

  29. Bruceon 21 May 2015 at 11:36 am

    “Then show that to be the case”

    Wait… Wut! Your response to me saying you have no evidence is to challenge me to show that that is the case? The burden of proof is on you.

    You are claiming we are censoring you because there is no evidence and that there is no evidence because we are censoring you. I see this is your tack and you will not deviate from it. Enjoy running around in circles and I will not respond to you again unless you provide some evidence… and in saying that I know I will not be responding to you again on this topic.

    And why do I know this this? Because…

    You have no evidence.

  30. chikoppion 21 May 2015 at 11:37 am

    For many, professed belief in creationism is a matter of identity, not intellectual honesty. The position cannot be sacrificed without endangering allegence to other deeply held personal beliefs.

    For an evangelical to abandon belief in creationism one of two things must transpire. Either they must change the hierarchy of the beliefs that constitute their sense of identity, to instead value epistemology above the professed ideals of the the evangelical “in-group,” or belief in evolution must be made compatible with their perception of what it means to be evangelical.

    For many, in other words, creationism is one of the beliefs that determine whether or not they can indentify as a “true” evangelical. It might be easier to work to remove creationism from this set, by advocating that it is compatible with evangelical beliefs, than it would be to ask evangelicals to abandon their sense of identity and group belonging, which they value more highly than scientific knowledge.

  31. RickKon 21 May 2015 at 11:39 am

    “If it really is thinly-veiled creationism, let it be exposed in open discussion.”

    And that’s exactly what happened in Kitzmiller v Dover. It was debated in an open, evidence-based forum and intelligent design creationism lost spectacularly. It’s happened over and over again in scientific forums for the past 150 years.

    I know you want this re-tried in every classroom because your argument is not scientific – it is based on popularity and faith, not evidence. Your (endless) playing of the victim card is just another appeal to popular sympathy.

    It’s not censorship when fairy-loving school boards are prevented from introducing gasoline fairies into the lessons on internal combustion engines, even if all the students were taught from birth to believe in fairies. And it is not censorship when God-loving school boards are prevented from introducing divine magic into lessons on evolution.

  32. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 11:47 am

    @mumadadd:

    [Why spend limited time and resources discussing failed hypotheses in school science classes]

    Because the goal of science education is to teach students to think scientifically, and not to just spit back dogma. The whole process of science is to discuss failing and failed hypotheses, and construct successful hypotheses. How can you teach kids to think if you just have them memorize the contemporary viewpoints–much of which, if science history is any guide, will turn out to be failed hypotheses in a couple of generations anyway.

    Also, teaching students good science by showing them why failed hypotheses are wrong is a very effective way to teach the good science. It’s much easier to learn basic relativity theory is you understand the theories about the ether that preceeded it (in fact, the Lorenz contraction presaged Einstein’s special relativity equations). It’s much easier to understand basic quantum theory if you understand how classical mechanics is mistaken at the quantum level (why blackbody radiation was such a surprise to Planck).

    Science is not dogma. You need to teach the process. Much of the process of evolutionary biology is in the tension between theories that invoke randomness and the theories that invoke design/teleology.

    By not teaching students about this, you are hampering their science education.

  33. chikoppion 21 May 2015 at 11:50 am

    @michaelegnor

    “Judicial decisions aren’t scientific reasoning. Teach students how science is done–and that includes teaching about theories that you believe are wrong. Especially, it involves teaching students about theories that are wrong, because correcting (not censoring) wrong theories is what science is all about.”

    If you are advocating that creationism should be addressed in science class as a failed, indeed invalid, biological theory, then I agree with your suggestion. It would provide a good lesson about the preeminence of the scientific method in defining knowledge about the natural world. I think, however, evangelicals would complain mightlity, and hypocritically, about secular public education intruding into the domain of religious dogma.

  34. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 11:53 am

    @Bruce:

    “You are claiming we are censoring…”

    You are censoring. Going to federal court to get an injunction to prevent someone from talking about something is censoring.

    Why can’t you be honest about what you do?

  35. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 11:55 am

    @RickK:

    “And that’s exactly what happened in Kitzmiller v Dover. It was debated in an open, evidence-based forum”

    A courtroom is not a scientific forum.

    Let science be science. Sometimes its messy, and sometimes your theory doesn’t triumph as fast as you’d like.

    But a courtroom is not a scientific forum, and censorship is not the scientific method.

  36. Marshallon 21 May 2015 at 12:00 pm

    @michaelegnor:

    There is no censorship. I don’t know what you are talking about.

    Go publish a paper criticizing evolution, and make it valid. Don’t use bogus arguments, don’t cite easily falsifiable claims, don’t cite reasons that have been easily countered for decades. I think you’ll find that you have nothing to say. If you do, you’ll probably get published in Science.

    You are conflating “censorship” with “speaking inappropriately.” If I went to a conference for geologists and tried to give a presentation on neuroscience, and they told me this wasn’t an appropriate venue for my talk, would I be in the right by shouting “THEY’RE CENSORING ME!!” Of course not. Similarly, if you went to a neuroscience conference and tried to present Astrology, you would be equally, and validly, shut down.

    Creationism in the biology classroom is shut out, for equally valid reasons. It has no place in science, because is not science and has never demonstrated it to be so. It is not censorship.

  37. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 12:04 pm

    @RickK:

    [I know you want this re-tried in every classroom because your argument is not scientific – it is based on popularity and faith, not evidence. Your (endless) playing of the victim card is just another appeal to popular sympathy.]

    Science is “re-tried” in every forum everytime it is discussed. That’s the nature of science. It is not dogma.

    And all science has to appeal to popular sympathy, if it is to become widely accepted. There is no “science court” that issues edicts as to what is scientifically acceptable and what is not.

    Newtonian physics didn’t prevail because Newton defeated his opponents in court. Copernicus didn’t sue the supporters of the Ptolemaic system. Galileo actually lost in court, but his science won in the popular mind.

    Science is not dogma, and it is not a series of edicts handed down by courts. It is continuously “re-tried”, and popular sympathy is ultimately what prevails.

    Censorship only delays the inevitable. Evidence and reason will eventually prevail. Why are you so afraid to have open discussion of these issues?

  38. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 12:06 pm

    @Marshall:

    Going to court to stop people from saying something is censorship. Whether it is Constitutionally justified is another matter. But censorship is censorship, and court injunctions aren’t science.

  39. Steven Novellaon 21 May 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Michael – thanks for taking the time to engage on my blog.

    I think you outline the creationist strategies well, but I have to disagree with your premises.

    I think you mischaracterize our position. First, you cannot equate the public science classroom with a university with public forums or scientific forums. They are each different.

    Public k-12 schools should emphasize teaching the consensus of scientific opinion. Have at least a working knowledge of that before you move on to genuine controversies.

    I actually favor teaching science by teaching historical scientific ideas we now believe to be wrong, and why. I actually would be OK teaching about creationism, as long as it was from a strictly scientific perspective. I also think that creationists would have a problem with this.

    A little reminder of history – the creationist movement started by trying to ban the teaching of evolutionary theory. Theirs is a tradition of censorship. They still want to water down and hamper the teaching of evolution.

    But the biggest fatal flaw in your position is that you are implying that what we are opposing is honest and open scientific debate and critical analysis of a scientific theory. It isn’t. We are opposed to presenting bad science, incorrect, misleading or incomplete facts, misunderstandings of current scientific thinking, and blatantly misrepresenting current science in the thinly veiled guise of teaching a genuine scientific controversy.

    This is not censorship. This is quality control. This is having a basic academic standard. You are free to expound on your thinking in many public venues. You are not free to teach bad science to public school students.

    The only remaining question is – who gets to decide what is good science and what is bad science with respect to the public school science classroom? I hope we can agree that the classroom should not be a battleground for adults to work out their religious, ideological, or political agendas. The only defensible position, in my opinion, is to follow the consensus of opinion within the scientific community.

    The courts, quite reasonably, agree. The consensus on this issue is quite clear. You just don’t agree with it. Creationists and ID proponents have money and resources, they have the opportunity to make a convincing scientific argument. They just haven’t – I think because they are wrong. Therefore they are trying to bypass the only legitimate course (actually producing convincing science) and go directly to the public with arguments about freedom, censorship, and conspiracies.

    Skeptics are very familiar with this pattern of behavior.

  40. mumadaddon 21 May 2015 at 12:10 pm

    “I think that the Darwinism-ID debate is fundamentally a metaphysical debate, more than a scientific debate. And I think that students should be made aware of this debate in schools.”

    Then the discussion should be had in whatever class teaches metaphysics.

    “A courtroom is not a scientific forum.”

    And neither is a school classroom. The genuine scientific controversies within evolution science are being hammered out in real scientific forums, by scientists.

    “I believe in teleology– that there is directedness and purpose in natural change.”

    As for this, and any proposed mechanism you might want to put forwards, either demonstrate it scientifically or admit that it has no place in the science class.

    “Because the goal of science education is to teach students to think scientifically, and not to just spit back dogma.”

    I actually agree with this wholeheartedly, and if ID were discussed in the context of being a failed hypothesis, and used as an example of bad science, I would endorse this – it is a failed hypothesis and bad science. A side by side comparison of ID and evolutionary theory based on scientific merit would be instructive, I’m sure. So fine, if that’s what you’re actually proposing, I’m all for it.

  41. Steven Novellaon 21 May 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Michael wrote: “Censorship only delays the inevitable. Evidence and reason will eventually prevail. Why are you so afraid to have open discussion of these issues?”

    This is a diversion. We obviously aren’t. We engage directly with creationist ideas in the most public forums we have access to. Let these ideas be worked out in the public marketplace of ideas.

    One disconnect here is our relative assessment of the arguments we are talking about. Even you have to acknowledge, Michael, that when creationist ideas are being taught in public schools they are not talking about teleology and sophisticated metaphysical arguments. What they are largely presenting are rather simplistically and demonstrably wrong claims about evolution and the evidence.

    We’re not talking about advanced philosophical arguments. We’re talking about getting basic scientific facts wrong. Or making claims that have already been addressed in the open forum of scientific discussion, and soundly refuted.

    The creationists’ unwillingness to admit defeat does not render their arguments legitimate or appropriate for the classroom – except as an example of pseudoscience and bad science.

  42. a_haworthrobertson 21 May 2015 at 12:31 pm

    This YEC blogger is having a go at Prothero (among others):
    http://worldviewwarriors.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/strawmen-bible-wallopers-and-csi.html

  43. Ori Vandewalleon 21 May 2015 at 12:32 pm

    In the vein of heliocentrism vs. geocentrism, I agree with Egnor that biology teachers should spend some time showing specifically why creationism/ID is such a terrible and unsuccessful theory.

  44. Willyon 21 May 2015 at 12:34 pm

    For Christians who believe the Bible to be the literal inerrant word of God, there can be no acceptance of evolution. In truth, there can be no acceptance of most of modern science for them, because most science either shows or at least validates the idea that the earth and universe are orders of magnitude older than the few thousand years suggested by Genesis. This point eludes most creationists, but it is true.

    I have been “discussing” this issue with several creationists lately and I see no path forward. They cannot budge from a literal interpretation of Genesis. It is the touch stone by which the validity of everything else is measured. For them, if parts of the Bible can be show to be factually incorrect, then the basis for trusting the Bible disappears and nothing it says can be trusted. Kurt Wise is the perfect example of this paradigm.

    In my mind, Jerry Coyne’s premise that science and faith are incompatible is spot on, save for perhaps believers of a Deist nature. Frankly, I am thankful that believers like Ken Miller and Simon Conway Morris advocate for science, but I can’t see how they square science with the ideas of the Bible.

    My glum assessment: There is no solution to this problem.

  45. a_haworthrobertson 21 May 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Sorry – my ‘error’. The mention of Prothero I read a few minutes ago (before going off on something of a wild goose chase to update my password for this site) was in fact HERE (in one of the comments by Braterman under his new post re Scotland and creationism):
    https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/creationism-in-scottish-schools-we-won/

    I’ll flag Risner to Braterman (Prothero no longer blogs as far as I know).

  46. carbonUniton 21 May 2015 at 12:49 pm

    @michaelegnor:

    Taking legal action to prevent a school board from teaching creationism is not censorship. Teaching it is unconstitutional, i.e. against the law. A school board can no more put creationism in science class than enact any other policy which violates the law. (Sex education with real sex anybody?*) It is simply not a matter for debate if the policy is illegal. If they consider such a policy, they will draw fire, which is good. It may prevent a huge waste of taxpayer funds in an unwinable battle. If they foolishly do adopt an illegal policy, they will draw legal fire, simple as that.

    The members of a school board are government actors. As such, in their government roles, they are required by the US Constitution’s establishment clause to remain neutral with respect to religion. They cannot use their government positions to push their beliefs upon the students (and staff for that matter…) The same is true for teachers who, on their own initiative, decide to teach creationism (or engage in any other illegal act.) If they do, there will be trouble, and justly so.

    However, none of the above prevents them from engaging in free speech outside of their government roles, i.e. when not teaching or being a board member. The can blog, they can be part of whatever religious organizations they wish to, they can criticize science blogs all they want. Same for other parties who wish to promote creationism. They can knock themselves out as long as they don’t violate the law. Suing people to stop them from expressing their religious opinions while they are not engaged in government roles would be the equivalent of a SLAPP suit. It would be censorship and that’s not happening. Most organizations which oppose the teaching of creationism as science would turn right around and oppose any attempt to squelch the free speech rights of the individuals in their private lives.

    * NSFW: Monty Python Sex Education
    http://www.rockymusic.org/showvideo/16c56d5f6225f48b7f3f62e1a6b7797c.php

  47. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Steve:

    Thank you for having me.

    As you noticed, my primary problem with the Darwin/ID debate is the censorship. I came up in a cultural environment that saw scientists as heroes of a sort. I idolized (and still do) folks like Copernicus and Newton and Kepler and Maxwell and Einstein. What I loved was not merely their accomplishments, but their willingness to look at scientific problems fresh, and see things in a different (and better) way. In college I was torn between majoring in the humanities or in the sciences. I chose the sciences (biochem) because I thought that scientific inquiry was more honest and more open to debate. I knew that I could always walk into a science professor’s office with a question–even a crazy question– and my ideas would be listened to and taken seriously. In the humanities I felt that some ideas were off limits, and that the standards of inquiry were much more constraining.

    Perhaps the thing that has troubled me the most about contemporary science is that such openness is no more. If anything, inquiry may be more free in the humanities. I can get a more open hearing of my scientific perspectives in a philosophy seminar than a biology seminar. Scientists go to court–to court!–to silence opponents. For someone who has always loved freedom of inquiry, that is unimaginable. I have strong opinions, and I respect strong opinions in others, and the notion that a scientist would testify in favor of censorship in court is mortifying. Even if I agree with the scientist on the science at issue, the courtroom is no place to advance science.

    As for curriculum in public schools, I support the normal channels for curricular development. Teachers, school boards, state education officials etc properly make curricular decisions, with input from parents, scientists, scholars of various sorts, etc. But federal courtrooms should not be a part of curricular development. If the folks in Augusta Georgia want to teach the kids about ID, and the folks in Cambridge Mass don’t, both are fine. I don’t fear diversity. What I don’t like is when a federal judge, following testimony from a scientist who should be devoted to open inquiry, tells a school district that they may not criticize a particular scientific theory under threat of federal law.

    Skeptics, if they are true to their calling, should be the first folks to object to censorship. I would love to see scientists stand up and say:”We don’t agree with ID (or whatever) but we insist that the discussion be open and without judicial coercion. Real scientists don’t take opponents to court.”

    The use of litigation to force silence on scientific topics–in schools or anywhere– is always counter to the best principles of scientific inquiry. It is deeply troubling, and is a violation of the most fundamental ethical principles of the scientific profession.

  48. Steven Novellaon 21 May 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Willy – No one said it was going to be easy. 🙂

    I understand that there are some with whom discussion is probably pointless. But I suspect there are many who fall into a category where they can be convinced either:

    1 – They can compartmentalize their faith from the findings of science.
    2 – Even if they do not believe in evolution, science is a method, and the science classroom is for teaching the methods and findings of science. You don’t have to “believe” in evolution, you just should understand it within the paradigm of science.

    This way their children can learn “about” evolution, and they can indoctrinate them into whatever religious belief they wish outside the classroom.

    I honestly think that many activist creationists are afraid of this solution. If the younger generation really learns about evolution to a sufficient degree, they may question their faith. Don’t the preachers all warn about this?

    Again – it is they who truly want censorship.

  49. Willyon 21 May 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Ori-Having teachers show how and why creationism is wrong might work in a university setting, though it would anger many students (https://orionmagazine.org/article/defending-darwin/), but it would not be a tactic most high school teachers could use successfully unless they were willing to constantly battle with angry parents. Confronting creationists directly in a high school setting could be hazardous to one’s employment as well.

    Creationists believe there is a genuine controversy on the validity of evolution and they believe their valid ideas are suppressed by evil atheistic scientists. Alas, I can testify personally that comparing, say, the teaching of flat earth ideas or astrology to the teaching of creationism is not well received.

    A question: Some time ago on this blog someone posted a single panel cartoon showing the difference between fundamentalism (a straight line to “Magic Sky Guy” and “sophisticated” theology (a heavily twisted and contorted line to the same “MSG”). Does anyone have a link to that cartoon?

  50. Marshallon 21 May 2015 at 1:04 pm

    @michaelegnor,

    Here is the problem. This has happened many many many times:

    Creationists: We think this X is true!
    Scientists: It is not true, this is why: reasons W, Y, and Z.

    Creationists: We think this X is true!
    Scientists: It is not true, this is why: reasons W, Y, and Z.

    Creationists: We think this X is true!
    Scientists: It is not true, this is why: reasons W, Y, and Z.

    Creationists: We think this X is true!
    Scientists: It is not true, this is why: reasons W, Y, and Z.

    Repeat about 1,000 times.

    Now, decades and decades later, this is what happens:

    Creationists: We think this X is true and we’re going to teach it in a science classroom!
    Scientists:You have been proven both wrong and insincere. Since you will not stop harming our children’s education, we are going to bring you to court.

    I don’t see ANY problem in this case with censoring Creationists abilities to poison the minds of children with easily discredited, false information. We are not censoring your ability to speak in a public forum, i.e. the internet. You are not being censored when your claims don’t pass the most basic of scientific scrutiny. You are not being censored when you don’t get published in a journal because there are thousands of references showing the shallowness and falseness of your arguments against evolution.

    You are being censored when you try to teach lies to children in a classroom. If we found out teachers were lying to children in classrooms in other ways, they would be fired and/or taken to court. They could scream “I’m being censored for teaching children that the Earth is flat!” and I would agree–yes, they are being censored. And in this case, that is a good thing.

  51. Willyon 21 May 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Marshall–That was beautimous!

  52. carbonUniton 21 May 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Yes, it was. Although it would have been more accurate to add new reasons every few iterations and sometimes drop one. The case for evolution has grown much stronger over time.

    Scientists: It is not true, this is why: reasons A, B, C.
    Scientists: It is not true, this is why: reasons A, B, C.
    Scientists: It is not true, this is why: reasons A, B, C, D.
    Scientists: It is not true, this is why: reasons A, B, C, D.
    Scientists: It is not true, this is why: reasons A, B, C, D, E, F.

    Also, the debate, as far as schools is OVER. It’s been settled by the courts. Any school board that contemplates teaching creationism is setting themselves up for an expensive legal defeat.

  53. GWDon 21 May 2015 at 1:31 pm

    @Marshall

    I would not call what call what the school did to the teacher who taught flat earth “censoring”. It buys into our (I believe) more recent notion in society that adhering to any sort of standard is “censoring” or “limiting freedom”.

    Two ways I could see helping is having states (or another body) audit whether classrooms in the country are adhering to the curriculum and teaching evolution. If they are not make sure they start to follow it. Also I believe a philosophy of science class could be added for either juniors or seniors so they can start to grasp science as a process. In addition for people who do not go into the sciences later they can at least come out with a rudimentary idea of the thought of how scientists actually work.

  54. lagaya1on 21 May 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Using the word “Darwinism” is like having a face tattoo. No matter how much you try to offer sincere arguments, your agenda is showing. The arguments would be just as bad without using the word “Darwinism”, but at least someone might be tempted to read all the way through the comment before deciding that it’s all bunk. When I see the word, I dismiss it out of hand as biased and not worth my time.

  55. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 1:37 pm

    @Steve:

    carbonUnit said: “Also, the debate, as far as schools is OVER. It’s been settled by the courts. Any school board that contemplates teaching creationism is setting themselves up for an expensive legal defeat.”

    This is the shame of the scientific profession–the declaration that “the debate is over” and the recourse if you keep asking questions is “an expensive legal defeat”.

    Doesn’t that feel like what you’re experiencing with the SLAPP suit?

    Real skepticism would have no part in this. The debate is never over–science is always open to questions–and scientific issues are never settled by judges.

  56. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 1:42 pm

    @lagaya 1:

    [Using the word “Darwinism” is like having a face tattoo. No matter how much you try to offer sincere arguments, your agenda is showing]

    I use Darwinism because I don’t disagree with evolution, understood as a natural process by which populations change with time. I see the process as teleological–secondary causation in theological jargon.

    So I make it a point to clarify just what it is that I disagree with–I disagree that evolution is adequately explained by random heritable variation and natural selection. RHV+NS is most succinctly written as “Darwinism”.

    I’m happy to use a different term, if it’s better. But I emphasize that I don’t disagree with evolution, broadly understood, I disagree that Darwinian mechanisms are adequate to explain it.

  57. Marshallon 21 May 2015 at 1:46 pm

    @michaelegnor:

    > Real skepticism would have no part in this. The debate is never over–science is always open to questions–and scientific issues are never settled by judges.

    This is fallacious and misleading, and you know it. It’s part of the reason it’s so frustrating dealing with Creationists. I could probably list one million debates that are “over” that you would agree with me on. But when we get to evolution, it’s suddenly not “over” because it is counter to your ideology.

    Here are plenty of “debates” that are over, some before they even began:

    1. Hydrogen exists.
    2. Helium exists.
    3. Lithium exists.
    4. Beryllium exists.

    118. Ununoctium exists.

    1,000. Chairs exist.
    1,001. The Earth exists.
    1,002. My name is Marshall.
    1,003. Gravity exists.
    1,004. Photosynthesis involves the conversion of light into energy.

    1,000,000. Copper conducts electricity.

    etc.

    My point is the following: none of the items on my list are 100% confirmed, because nothing is. However, it means that the statement “you don’t know for 100% sure that what you say is true” is not a valid argument. You must specify the level of confidence. Those statements have a level of confidence so high that we might as well call any debate on their truthfulness as settled.

    Let’s add another element to the list that has equally high confidence: evolution.

    Why are you debating evolution and not any of the other items I have listed?

  58. Willyon 21 May 2015 at 1:52 pm

    The idea that creationism is censored in the classroom is total BS. Creationism is not allowed to be taught as science; neither is flat earth thinking nor geocentric universe ideas. I sincerely hope that the “controversy” is discussed when evolution is taught, though it’s probably easier to say that than it is to accomplish it in a classroom with fundamentalists.

    I agree 100% that science should be better taught and that includes the methodology of science. I once contradicted a fellow who mocked the idea of consensus being important and then asked him what should be used to determine scientific validity in place of consensus. His answer, pretty much verbatim: “Do what science has always done. Observe and record”!!!! That answer is stunning in its depth of ignorance (true objective ignorance, not to be confused with stupidity), absolutely stunning. This particular fellow had an MBA and is a CPA, so he isn’t dumb.

    The level of science UNDERSTANDING in this country is very weak. Improving education is certainly one place to make an effort.

    Dr. Novella: I think the idea of compartmentalization may not be possible for some folks. I don’t think I can compartmentalize contradictory beliefs, at least those that are so obvious as the difference between science and creationism–I would be forced to confront the dichotomy and make a decision one way or another. I suspect most fundamentalists are the same; they see the stark contrasts and are forced to choose one, rather than put each into a separate spot and hold both ideas simultaneously.

  59. Johnnyon 21 May 2015 at 1:55 pm

    “I also think we need a cultural change within the fundamentalist Christian community. This will be a tougher nut to crack. We should, however, be having a conversation with them about how Christian faith can be compatible with science. Faith does not have to directly conflict with the current findings of science. Modeling ways in which Christians can accommodate their faith to science may be helpful. And to be clear – I am not saying that science should accommodate itself to faith, that is exactly what we are fighting against.”

    This is a still-born project.

    Even if Christian theology can be made compatible with the theory of evolution (I don’t think it can, but even if), you face some serious problems elsewhere. For example with history and archeology (and these are sciences, at least science broadly constructed).

    The Old Testament makes many historical claims about the ancient Middle East. The actual findings of history and archeology fit very poorly with much of the claims of the Old Testament.

    There never was any exodus from Egypt, because there never was any big Israelite population in Egypt (the Israelites emerged out of the Canaanite population). Israelite slaves didn’t build the pyramids (in fact no slaves built the pyramids). There was no ancient Israelite empire ruled by David and Solomon. The stories of the empire was probably inspired by the (very real) Assyrian empire. David and Solomon probably existed, but were not great kings, but rather tribal chieftains or the like.

    Sean Carroll says it the best:

    >In response to this situation, we uncompromising atheists have a typically strident and trouble-making idea: organizations that bill themselves as “centers for science education” and “associations for science” and “academies of science” should not take stances on matters of religion. Outlandish, I know. But we think that organizations dedicated to science should not wander off into theology, even with the best of intentions. Stick with talking about science, and everyone should be happy.< Source: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/01/19/the-truth-still-matters/

    "As the skeptical movement grows and evolves, I would like to see it mature in the direction where high-level strategizing on major issues can occur. It is still very much a grassroots movement without any real organization. At best there is networking going on, and perhaps that is enough."

    This is a subject I have been thinking about quite a bit.

    The humanist movement has a global umbrella organization (IHEU) to which most of the world's humanist organizations are affiliated. The IHEU speaks on global issues of concern to the humanists (mostly secularism and persecution of the non-religious), and even has a channel into the UN. They have a minimum statement on what humanism is (see: http://iheu.org/humanism/what-is-humanism/ ) which all organizations wanting to join must agree to. They also have a few documents and declarations describing their philosophy.

    Would a similar global umbrella group for the skeptical movement be worthtwhile? I think skeptics have a lot to say on important issues of global concern. Bigfoot and UFOs are trivial in this regard, but global warming, GMOs, energy sources, and the importance of science and critical thinking in education are issues that are important for the future of our emergning global civilization.

    I'm a skeptic, and also an atheist (but not really a humanist). It is somewhat frustrating to see that the humanists are much better at organizing and making a voice in society than are the skeptics.

  60. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 1:56 pm

    @carbonUnit:

    “Taking legal action to prevent a school board from teaching creationism is not censorship…”

    You’re getting legal issues and the censorship mixed up.

    Taking someone to court to silence them is censorship. It is censorship if the court action constitutinally sound, and it is censorship if it is not constitutionally sound.

    Censorship is the use of force to shut someone up, and federal courts are force. It is disgraceful that scientists use force to stop debate.

    On the legal issues, you and I see things differently. I don’t believe that belief in God can be taught as fact in school from a Constitutional standpoint, because that would be an establishment of religion. Same goes for teaching disbelief in God. So teaching creationism–meaning the view that the God of the Bible created heaven and earth–in public schools is unconstitutional. Also, teaching that atheism is true is unconstitutional for the same reason.

    However, teaching students various critiques of evolutionary theory, including the critique that Darwinian evolutionary theory neglects the evidence for design or teleology in biology–is perfectly constitutional, and is good science education. It is an obvious inference, and even if you believe that it is not scientifically true, it is good education for students to be acquainted with it and to understand the scientific arguments advanced for and against it.

  61. Marshallon 21 May 2015 at 2:05 pm

    @michaelegnor

    > Censorship is the use of force to shut someone up, and federal courts are force. It is disgraceful that scientists use force to stop debate.

    It is not disgraceful, because there is no “debate.” You are making up a fake debate that doesn’t exist and pretending that it does. You are telling children false information that has been known to have been false for so long that at this point they are lies. Lies told to children under the guise of educational authority SHOULD be censored. So no, it is not disgraceful, it should be applauded.

    > the critique that Darwinian evolutionary theory neglects the evidence for design or teleology in biology

    There is not a single valid argument. They have all been addressed a million times over, but Creationists put their heads in the sand and pretend not to notice.

    >it is good education for students to be acquainted with it and to understand the scientific arguments advanced for and against it.

    This is entirely correct. Students should be well informed as to why Creationism is not science and has been completely debunked. I remember being taught Lamarkian evolution and phlogistons, both thoroughly debunked. I’m happy to add Creationism to that mix. However, that is not what Creationists want: they want it to be given a special status, where we pretend that it’s true and lie to the children about the scientific consensus. And as I said, lies told to children under the guise of educational authority should be censored.

  62. carbonUniton 21 May 2015 at 2:05 pm

    @michaelegnor

    Did you not see my earlier post about government actors? The prohibition against teaching creationism/ID in public schools as a reality (science) is settled law. The courts weighed the arguments for creationism/ID and found them lacking. Not science. They are a religious belief and teaching them in school as fact is unconstitutional. Yeah, I guess a school board can debate about it, but it is ultimately a futile act. But this is a specific context, government action. In others, individuals and organizations can express all they want.

  63. edamameon 21 May 2015 at 2:07 pm

    It is too bad this thread got derailed by Egnor. Maybe start a new thread for people that want to discuss the content of Steven’s actual post?

  64. Willyon 21 May 2015 at 2:15 pm

    michaelegnor: Teaching a serious, sensible, science-based “critique” of Darwinian evolution is far beyond the level of evolutionary theory that is in high school or even an intro class in college. It would be flat wrong to teach that evolution itself is not a fact. In what other basic science classes are subtle distinctions and controversies taught? I have no problem discussing the fact the evolution is controversial in the public sphere, but teaching evolution as being “suspect” in some way is beyond the pale. Pray tell, just what “evidence” exists for design or teleology?

    When thinking of the change in mindset necessary to allow some Christians to accept evolution, think of the change in mindset necessary to adjust fundamentalist Muslims to modern life. I recommend both “Infidel” and “Heretic” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Both books by this remarkably brave person are thought provoking commentary on the minds of fundamentalists of all stripes.

  65. carbonUniton 21 May 2015 at 2:19 pm

    @michaelegnor

    “However, teaching students various critiques of evolutionary theory, including the critique that Darwinian evolutionary theory neglects the evidence for design or teleology in biology–is perfectly constitutional, and is good science education. It is an obvious inference, and even if you believe that it is not scientifically true, it is good education for students to be acquainted with it and to understand the scientific arguments advanced for and against it.”

    If they actually did ‘teach the controversy (which there isn’t)’ in science honestly, it would involve the active discrediting of creationism/ID. Be careful what you wish for. (Doesn’t sound very neutral to me either.)

    Now, in a comparative religion class or other social stidiclass where religious beliefs are examined in a properly neutral way (not endorsing any beliefs), such a discussion would probably be OK.

  66. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 2:30 pm

    @Marshall:

    [Students should be well informed as to why Creationism is not science and has been completely debunked.]

    Fine, but you can’t inform students about Creationism is teaching about Creationism in schools is censored by a federal court.

    You could of course get the court to censor saying good things about Creationism, but allowing bad things, but that seems like just a more intrusive kind of censorship–“OK you can talk about it, but you can only say bad things”.

    Why not just stop censoring?

  67. Kestrelon 21 May 2015 at 2:37 pm

    @michaelegnor:

    Perhaps it’s been said elsewhere here, but why not teach every religion’s pet explanation for the origins of life? Why just the Christian form of creationism?

  68. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 2:42 pm

    edamame:

    [It is too bad this thread got derailed by Egnor. Maybe start a new thread for people that want to discuss the content of Steven’s actual post?]

    I’m not stopping you. Steven’s post was interesting–go ahead and discuss it.

    I raised the censorship issue, and it got quite a reaction. It certainly plays a big role in the Darwin/ID/creation debate–if it weren’t for censorship by federal courts, the teaching of evolution in schools would be quite different, for better or worse.

    The scientific community is quite invested in stopping this debate, at least in public schools. It is a rather fascinating phenomenon, and is historically rather novel. I can’t think of another historical period in which the courts were used as such a tool by scientists.

  69. Marshallon 21 May 2015 at 2:42 pm

    @michaelegnor:

    > Fine, but you can’t inform students about Creationism is teaching about Creationism in schools is censored by a federal court.

    I don’t believe that the courts ruled that you cannot mention Creationism. I believe that they ruled teachers may not [falsely] teach children that Creationism is a valid scientific explanation of our origins. As Steve has pointed out, they are not “censoring” Creationism, they are holding classroom teachings to a standard of quality. If you think that standards of quality have no place in a classroom, and that such standards equate to censorship, then you are going to be fighting a very uphill battle.

    Stop pretending that censorship is what is holding back the teaching of Creationism. What is holding it back is that it is garbage science with no basis in reality, has been thoroughly debunked countless times over, and yet Creationists still push to tell its lies to children in schools.

  70. Marshallon 21 May 2015 at 2:51 pm

    @michaelegnor:

    > The scientific community is quite invested in stopping this debate, at least in public schools. It is a rather fascinating phenomenon, and is historically rather novel. I can’t think of another historical period in which the courts were used as such a tool by scientists.

    We’ve never really been in the position where a group of absurdists push time and time again to teach discredited lies to our students in the science classroom. Honest scientific debate has utterly failed with Creationists–what do you suggest we do to protect the education of our children?

  71. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 2:55 pm

    @Marshall:

    “they are not “censoring” Creationism, they are holding classroom teachings to a standard of quality. If you think that standards of quality have no place in a classroom, and that such standards equate to censorship, then you are going to be fighting a very uphill battle.”

    Courts don’t have a role in curriculum development nor the requisite expertise to set quality standards in education. What courts do is tell you that if you talk about a specific topic, you’ll be fined or go to jail. Try disobeying a federal court order.

    Standards of quality are set by teachers, curriculum committees, school boards, state education officials, etc, through the normal curricular process. That process does not properly go through a courtroom.

    Courts censor, fine and imprison. Curriculum committees set educational standards. I say let’s keep things in the curriculum committees.

  72. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 2:59 pm

    @michaelegnor:

    “I can’t think of another historical period in which the courts were used as such a tool by scientists”

    I’ll comment on my comment.

    There actually was one era in which courts were used to adjudicate the scientific debate–the Lysenko affair.

  73. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 3:01 pm

    @Marshall:

    “what do you suggest we do to protect the education of our children?”

    Foster open discussion of the issues. Testify before school boards on what you believe is the best curriculum, and encourage others to do the same.

    Don’t use courts to censor.

  74. Steven Novellaon 21 May 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Michael – should we allow grade school history teachers to teach that a secret cabal of lizard people actually run the governments of the earth as an alternate interpretation of world history?

    Should we allow them to teach the alternative theory that ancient history all occurred in the middle ages, and that there is no recorded history prior to 800AD? (These are actually put forward as critiques of accepted history).

    If not, why not?

  75. Steven Novellaon 21 May 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Michael – I have to point out your historical revisionism. In the specific cases in which school boards were taken to court or laws were challenged in courts, it was demonstrated that they violated the establishment clause. The details of what they were teaching or requiring were determined in court not to be alternate scientific theories but to be faith-based religious beliefs pretending to be science. Your point about using the courts to censor science is therefore simply not true.

    It is demonstrably true that the courts were used simply to prevent religious belief from being established by the state using the guise of science.

  76. RickKon 21 May 2015 at 3:58 pm

    “I can’t think of another historical period in which the courts were used as such a tool by scientists”

    Scientists didn’t use it, parents did. The court was used to prevent a religiously activist school board from forcing its religious beliefs into the classroom, over the objections of the actual science teachers.

    Using the courts to prevent you from expressing your religious beliefs is censorship. Using the courts to prevent you from expressing your religious beliefs in the science classroom is not censorship.

    Your ploy here is so transparent. You can’t get exactly what you want exactly the way you want it every time, so you play victim and cry “censorship”. This is no different than a completely unqualified candidate, when turned down for a job, crying “discrimination”.

    With all due respect to the people of Augusta Georgia (from your example above) – this is not a popular vote. The local voters don’t decide the periodic table, the local voters don’t decide the Theory of Relativity, and the local voters don’t decide the Theory of Evolution.

  77. carbonUniton 21 May 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Returning to the core of Steven’s post, what seems to matter is school boards at the local & state level. I must admit that I don’t currently have track of the members of either, and that is bad. There used to be a candidate watch web site at state level, but that seems to have gone away after 2008.

    Seems like what is needed is a way to find the few individuals in every jurisdiction who do have time to keep an eye on the local school board and then make sure concerned individuals can find them. Elections really do matter, and time and time again, I don’t know about the school board (or local judge) races when I go to the polls. I’ve got to do better!

  78. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Steven:

    [Michael – should we allow grade school history teachers…]

    Two issues: constitution and good curriculum.

    There is nothing unconstitutional about teaching bad history, as long as the bad history is not an establishment of religion. The courts have no role unless establishment issues are genuinely at stake.

    Good curriculum entails good history, good science, etc. I would oppose bad history or bad science in my school district, but there would be no issue to take to court. I would be happy to testify before a school board in support of good history or good science. I would not testify in court, because I oppose censorship and I don’t think courts properly have a place in these decisions.

    You don’t need to drag people into court to get good curricula.

    On issues like evolution, creationism, ID etc, I believe that teaching creationism (“God created the heaven and earth…”) as a fact is an establishment and is unconstitutional. It is constitutional to teach creationism as a belief that some people have, as long as it is not taught as a scientific fact (I agree with Scalia’s and Rehnquist’s dissent in Aguillard.)

    Teaching ID is, in my view, entirely constitutional. Dover was incorrectly decided. (Ironically, even Larry Moran agrees with me on this). I don’t recommend teaching ID as fact, however, because it is not a scientific fact in any reasonable sense. I believe that it should be taught as one aspect of the controversy, and that the strengths and weakness of Darwinian evolution should be the primary content of the curriculum.

  79. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 4:51 pm

    @carbonUnit:

    [Seems like what is needed is a way to find the few individuals in every jurisdiction who do have time to keep an eye on the local school board and then make sure concerned individuals can find them. Elections really do matter, and time and time again, I don’t know about the school board (or local judge) races when I go to the polls. I’ve got to do better!]

    I agree. All parties in this debate can and should be more involved in school boards, state educational processes, etc. That’s democracy, and that’s a good thing.

    It’s dragging people in front of judges that’s wrong, and with which scientists should play no part.

  80. Marshallon 21 May 2015 at 4:52 pm

    > I believe that it should be taught as one aspect of the controversy, and that the strengths and weakness of Darwinian evolution should be the primary content of the curriculum.

    To what controversy do you refer? Again, I reiterate: why are you choosing this controversy, as opposed to the controversies over whether or not water and helium exist?

  81. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 5:02 pm

    @Marshall:

    [To what controversy do you refer?]

    The one that’s been discussed in myriad books, research journals, blog posts, movies, government hearings, etc.

  82. carbonUniton 21 May 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Dumping garbage in the park or dumping garbage in science class should both be reasons to be hauled into court if necessary to stop the abuse.

  83. Marshallon 21 May 2015 at 5:27 pm

    > The one that’s been discussed in myriad books, research journals, blog posts, movies, government hearings, etc.

    It is not a scientific controversy; why would a science classroom discuss it?

  84. BillyJoe7on 21 May 2015 at 5:28 pm

    I haven’t read the comments yet, but would first like to comment on one paragraph in the post.
    Sorry if it’s been covered already.

    “We should, however, be having a conversation with them about how Christian faith can be compatible with science”

    The problem is that the Christian faith is not compatible with science. That is the truth of the matter and you’re not going to make any progress if you deny that fact. You cannot lie for science, like Christians lie for their faith. It just won’t work. Period.

    “Faith does not have to directly conflict with the current findings of science. Modeling ways in which Christians can accommodate their faith to science may be helpful”

    It simply can’t be done. Either there are rules of physics or miracles happen. You can’t have both. Either the human population reduced to a minimum of tens of thousands or there were only two at one stage. It can’t be both. Either “Mitochondral Eve” and “Y chromosome Adam” were contemporary or they weren’t.

    “And to be clear – I am not saying that science should accommodate itself to faith, that is exactly what we are fighting against”

    But that is exactly what is required for Christians to accommodate their faith to science. Biologos has been a complete failure. Scientists who refuse to accommodate science to faith as demanded by the faithful, have left that organisation in frustration at the intransigence of the faithful.

  85. RickKon 21 May 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Michael said: “Teaching ID is, in my view, entirely constitutional. Dover was incorrectly decided. (Ironically, even Larry Moran agrees with me on this). I don’t recommend teaching ID as fact, however, because it is not a scientific fact in any reasonable sense. I believe that it should be taught as one aspect of the controversy, and that the strengths and weakness of Darwinian evolution should be the primary content of the curriculum.”

    Again with the games.

    Dover was correct – the purpose of the school board was to open the science classroom to a version of science more in keeping with their Christian creationist beliefs. And the materials they were using were clearly of creationist religious origin. I believe Larry Moran quite firmly believes that the Dover school board’s mission was religion, not science.

    ID is not a science, it is a religious policy slogan and an advertising campaign.

    Proponents say: “Intelligent Design is the scientific search for evidence of design in nature.”

    In theory, that may be true. In practice however, ID is an advertising campaign and a tool for fundamentalist Christians who see it as a wedge with which to drive Genesis back into science classes and public policy.

    Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the ID “researchers” are not the actions of scientists seeking actual truth. They do not attempt to convince their scientific peers with weight of evidence. They treat criticism as an attack, as a shunning, rather than as part of the gauntlet that any new scientific idea must run. The ID proponents appeal directly to the public with scientific-sounding books like “Signature in the Cell”, using math and terminology that the vast majority of the general public is not equipped to critique.

    And they use lawyers and press releases. The Discovery Institute in Seattle is promoting intelligent design with a media machine that is churning out several press releases every week. Using funding from Young Earth Creationists, the lawyers and politicos who head the Discovery Institute keep the ID “manufactroversy” in business.

    If there are any honest ID “scientists”, people actually trying to study something scientifically and trying to devise valid falsifiable tests, they are lost in sea of bamboozle and mis-direction that is the heart and purpose of the “Intelligent Design” lobby.

    The pseudo-scientific advertising machine of the Discovery Institute most closely resembles the ad campaigns by Big Tobacco in the late 60s. But where Big Tobacco were (by their own admission) marketing doubt in the science that showed smoking causes cancer, the Discovery Institute (by its own admission) markets doubt in the materialist science of evolution.

    These are not the actions of people of science. They are the actions of people of politics and religious ideology. And they (you) don’t get a free pass into science classrooms.

    Michael – by your own admission you’re arguing from philosophy and faith, not from science. If you had a valid scientific argument, you’d present it. If it was well-supported, you could batter down the doors of the science classroom with the power of your evidence. And you’d have massive Christian (and Muslim) funding at your back. But you don’t have the evidence. All you have is a non-specific distaste for evolution and it’s implications to your philosophy and your faith.

    Sorry Mate, but however much you play victim and whine “censorship”, your faith is not sufficient to get a seat at the science table. And the only “controversy” here is between the facts, and religious beliefs that find those facts inconvenient.

  86. michaelegnoron 21 May 2015 at 5:40 pm

    @RickK

    Is the design inference in nature wrong?

  87. spartanhooahon 21 May 2015 at 5:44 pm

    @michaelegnor

    For those of us not as well-versed in ID as you are, could you elaborate on “the design inference in nature”?

  88. Steven Novellaon 21 May 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Michael – You are correct in that there are two issue – quality and constitutionality.

    Obviously I think that creationism is horrifically bad science, and you disagree. The scientific community, however, agrees with me, and that is what matters. But that is not the issue you are apparently addressing.

    Teaching creationism in any form is unconstitutional, and you apparently agree with that. The courts have consistently determined that dressing up creationism as science doesn’t make it so. It was convincingly demonstrated in court that ID is creationism is religion.

    It sounds like now you agree that the court cases were not about censoring science, but rather about the question of whether or not ID is religion, which is absolutely a proper question for the courts. Just because you disagree with the decision does not make it improper.

    So the criticism of using the courts for censorship is just a smokescreen. The real issue is that you disagree with the court’s decision. But you have to acknowledge, given their decision, the use of the courts was absolutely proper to the question – which is not “is it good science” but rather “is it religion.”

  89. carbonUniton 21 May 2015 at 5:53 pm

    Steve wrote:
    “The courts are a great venue for the side of science, because of the separation clause in the constitution and the way it has been interpreted by the courts.”

    Also, most of the creationist tactics that work well in public debates are defeated by the pesky little problem of being under oath in a situation with real rules of evidence.

  90. RickKon 21 May 2015 at 5:58 pm

    As for the “battle” versus the “war” – I think we are winning the war. If evolution were more directly observable, the process would be faster. On the one hand we have the continuing growth of science and the growing awareness that other countries get along just fine with evolution. Against that we have the fact that people like to feel they belong to a tribe, and some of America’s biggest tribes define themselves in party through their rejection of evolution. Group adoption of a contrary and clearly counter-factual idea is a powerful social binding force, especially for those who naturally reject “the official story”. Evolution rejection becomes a slogan and a litmus test to determine who is in the tribe and who is out.

    But as we’ve seen with the stunning reversal from rejection to acceptance of people who identify as LGBT in some of the most conservative tribes, change is possible. The constant pressure of facts and advocacy eventually pushed society to a tipping point, and the next generation just brushed aside the LGBT rejection of the older tribe members.

    Evolution isn’t as visible, so its rejection is a relatively harmless statement of tribal association. And this may be very slow to change unless something happens to make evolution really matter to the average person. An obvious trigger event would be discovery of non-Earth life. Another might be a truly interesting movie or TV show about early hominids. Or perhaps a sweeping victory of Tea Party creationists would trigger a sufficient backlash to permanently move subsequent generations.

    In the meantime I think we just have to keep playing our part. We can’t let the anti-science tribes like Michael Egnor, the Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research have the stage unchallenged. If we keep the pressure up, and get a trigger event or two, eventually those tribes will reach one of those realization moments, agree that “this position is stupid – time to surrender it” and move on.

  91. Marshallon 21 May 2015 at 6:05 pm

    @michaelegnor

    > Is the design inference in nature wrong?

    I’m well-versed in Creationist arguments, but even I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you say “design inference.”

  92. Willyon 21 May 2015 at 6:07 pm

    michaelegnor: You’ve still not specified what “evidence” exists for design or teleology.

    Your example of Lysenko backfires on you somewhat. Lysenko went AGAINST the prevailing wisdom of science to push an ideology. Sound familiar?

  93. Willyon 21 May 2015 at 6:26 pm

    As an example of how difficult it is to persuade a YEC to accept evolution, here is a verbatim reply from a creationist in response to my point that hundreds of millions of Christians accept evolution and God (note the explicit reference to “atheistic evolution” in the second sentence):

    I’m familiar with this. Being converted from atheistic evolution to Christianity, this sort of view could’ve held some sway with me in my early years. But as I studied their ideas, and the Scriptures, I conclude the following:

    1. The bible must be taken on the whole, per Jesus. Words of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament take Genesis quite literally.

    2. Either I believe in God as revealed through His Word to man, or I believe in some special revelation/mixture, since no one has seen God the Father, only God the Son. So, I rely upon the revealed Word.

    3. That same Word states “Let God be true, but every man a liar”, so it’s important to be skeptical of not only the works of others, but of my own self and my thoughts. This was important for me as someone who knew about the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras, as well as the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods (for example) from the time I was 5.

    4. So, my conclusion for these is that they are, if true believers, allowing themselves to be “bullied” into a place of inconsistency with Scripture based on some refutable “science”. Partly because they’ve allowed in the view that Evolution-belief is somehow required to be a rational, thinking individual, and to deny such you must deny all science. I take the position that, although the purpose of the bible is NOT to be a science textbook, the bible and actual observable science do not contradict one another, and never will. But as you know, I don’t see evolution as anything but a false and unnecessary interpretation of observable science (which science is adaptation).

    5. Let me add that their views have to contradict Genesis, even if you take the first few chapters symbolically, because then plants precede sunlight by some indeterminate amount of time. I believe it was by one day.

    6. For such folks, I don’t know how they believe that God is intimately involved in their lives when he apparently created the universe for his good pleasure, and created man in His image, but left it on autopilot. Further, the whole of Scripture supports the idea of man being the center piece of His Creation. So, He would’ve let it all go for billions of years until adding man? So, both the Genesis account, and the theology of how God relates to man taken consistently from across the Scriptures, would contradict this view.

    7. God gave His Word for His people to walk in the light. Yet, for 3,500 years Jews (and subsequently, Christians) have believed in 6-day Creation based on Genesis. Yet, some believers in the modern era think that Darwin really had the revelation we needed? It seems arrogant to me.

  94. Factoidjunkieon 21 May 2015 at 6:27 pm

    I’m frustrated as well by the feeling of slow progress, but when I take a multi-generational view, I refresh.

    It took Christianity 400 years to gain the upper hand in politics. Longer for it to lodge as a permanent philosophical and legal thinking mode in Western mindsets.

    It’s been less time than that for the scientific method. Considering perhaps 15% of the planet’s population is secure-to-familiar in this epistemology is a terrific thing for a species whose evolutionary pressures helped create a “fill-in-the-blanks-pattern-recognition” associative architecture brain. Being spooked by bumps in the night is automatic. Not believing in ghosts requires training and education. Hard work.

    One of the lead PEW researchers stated many American’s dislike the fusion of Evangelicalism and the Republican party. Doesn’t mean religion will die, but its strangle hold will be loosened. The actuarial event we are witnessing may be the extinction of the last large group of unthinking religionists.

    Our charge is to continue. And I agree we must shift our battle to the courts. Changing a law is harder than making one.

  95. hardnoseon 21 May 2015 at 6:32 pm

    [In 1982 44% of Americans endorsed the statement: “God created humans in their present form.”]

    [There has been a trend in the number of people willing to endorse the statement that humans evolved without any involvement from God]

    Most people don’t believe either of these, and I am sure you must be aware of that. You pretend there are two options, both of them irrational and unscientific. Either you believe the fictional creation story of Judaism is literally true, or you are an atheist.

  96. hardnoseon 21 May 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Evolution is an established scientific fact, and anyone who doubts it does not value evidence or rationality.

    Natural selection is an established fact, and it would be ridiculous to question something that is so obviously true.

    But Darwin’s idea — that natural selection acting on randomly occurring variations is the cause of evolution — has no scientific evidence to support it.

    None. I challenge you to find any.

    Steve N is a passionate advocate for atheism. He is obviously sincere and believes deeply in his mission. Yes, he is a missionary, and no more rational than missionaries of any other sect.

  97. DietRichColaon 21 May 2015 at 7:11 pm

    Having grown up a fundamentalist Christian, but now identifying as an atheist chemistry professor, I would love to respond to the contents of Dr. Novella’s article and how to engage the religious community on the scientific front.

    However, this is one of those situations where I’m pretty sure the debate with Dr. Egnor will drown out anything I say.

    On that note, while I appreciate the respectfulness, civility, and willingness to engage with which Dr. Egnor has shown, I must heartily disagree with his claims of censorship. Refusing to teach intelligent design or creationism in the science classroom is not censorship. As others have intoned, censorship would entail an attempt to silence all discussion regarding the topic and eliminating it from the public forum. Taking creationism out of science classrooms and relegating it to philosophy or religious studies is simply putting it where it belongs, not attempting to suppress the ideas of those who espouse it.

    It isn’t saying that no one can talk about these ideas, it is just saying that these discussions are not appropriate for the science classroom because when you scratch the surface the discussions have little to do with advancing scientific ideas and more to do with defending the religious ideology of a subset of the American population.

    Science is a methodology designed to reproducibly collect data, eliminate human biases in interpreting it, and describe the natural world in a way that is consistent with the evidence. It is the key to understanding the world around us as it is, not as we want it to be. And it is captivating and awe inspiring, because it truly opens your mind to new possibilities and ways of seeing the world.

    At least in my experience, this is not true of intelligent design theories, including those held by my former self. And you are talking to a Washington state native who, upon deciding he wanted to be a scientist, thought he would get a degree and go work at the Discovery Institute in Seattle when he graduated. Luckily, my path in life led me elsewhere.

    I have always had a deep love of science and knowledge. One of the many things that put me on the path of becoming an atheist was that I found myself, as an intelligent design proponent, not using the science to enhance or expand my understanding of the world, but rather trying to use my preconceived notions that the world had be designed and reconcile what I learned in my science classes with how I already “knew” the world worked. I would have made a GREAT apologist. I didn’t use science to inform or shape my views about intelligent design, I used my preconceived notions and belief in intelligent design to confine or explain the science I was learning. But that was antithetical to spirit of science and the idea of using the evidence to shape my view of the world… and restricted the kind of science I was willing to accept as true, since any tenets that contradicted my ideas of intelligent design “had” to be wrong.

    To be sure, the idea of God creating the world around us and that he cared about every detail had some level of “awe” to it. But it was this war for me… the awesome and amazing world that I was discovering through science, that was observable, backed by evidence, repeatable and consistent but open to new interpretation with new evidence… versus my accepted “awe” of God’s creation and how it was described in Genesis that I wasn’t allowed to question, or deny, or modify, or adapt based on my new knowledge.

    I chose the awe of viewing the world through science and chemistry and that my knowledge of it was expandable and flexible and able to be informed by new evidence over the “awe” that was imposed on me by my religious faith.

    Perhaps Dr. Egnor’s views are not as restricted as my own, and that his experience with intelligent design is different. I cannot speak for him. But for most of the people I knew, my former social circle, it was my prior belief in intelligent design that censored my ideas, not the fact that the “controversy” in evolution versus intelligent design wasn’t taught in my high school science class.

    My views of intelligent design were not, in any way, informed by or compatible with the process of science. It was a way of compartmentalizing, rationalizing, and applying apologetic arguments to allow me to maintain my preconceived notions and beliefs that I had been raised with.

  98. idoubtiton 21 May 2015 at 7:16 pm

    Our American culture does not highly value science. That has to change. I would advocate for science appreciation class instead of focusing on science literacy. This is a small trend for college non-science major freshmen classes but it’s still rare – courses exist where they learn how science works and affects THEM. But that age is too late – needs to start much earlier. I’m trying to stay optimistic that people like Bill Nye and Neil Tyson have made inroads to popularizing science but more needs to be done.

    But this paragraphs caught my eye:

    “As the skeptical movement grows and evolves, I would like to see it mature in the direction where high-level strategizing on major issues can occur. It is still very much a grassroots movement without any real organization. At best there is networking going on, and perhaps that is enough. At the very least we should parlay those networks into goal-oriented strategies on specific issues.”

    It’s growing outside the bounds of typical organization perhaps but we haven’t be able to quantify it (in fact one could argue the current orgs may hamper growth, turning people away). How can we strategize when we have not established common goals and objectives? Networking is poor and excludes many who can contribute. There is disarray.

    So, we are looking at two very different mountains to climb here.

  99. DietRichColaon 21 May 2015 at 7:39 pm

    @hardnose

    “Evolution is an established scientific fact, and anyone who doubts it does not value evidence or rationality.

    Natural selection is an established fact, and it would be ridiculous to question something that is so obviously true.

    But Darwin’s idea — that natural selection acting on randomly occurring variations is the cause of evolution — has no scientific evidence to support it. ”

    I’m not sure anyone, biologists especially, believe that natural selection is the “cause” of evolution. In fact, now that I re-read that statement, I really have no idea what you’re trying to say at all.

    Evolution isn’t a “thing”. It’s a description of a process by which organisms change from generation to generation, which can lead to speciation, and even greater changes over time. You appear to accept this.

    Natural selection is merely one of the mechanisms by which these changes occur. Anti-biotic resistance in bacteria is a perfect example of this mechanism in action. Through random mutation and other process some bacteria aquire genes that result in anti-biotic resistance. The bacteria that survive anti-biotic treatment then propagate these genetic variations that make them resistant to the next generation. The process continues and builds up until you have some populations of bacteria immune to anti-biotics. Again, you seem to accept this.

    So… this IS an example where the explanation that natural selection can drive the evolution of a species is scientifically demonstrable. It is scientific evidence supporting the idea that natural selection can drive evolution.

    No one except an imaginary straw man is claiming this is the SOLE driver or “cause” of evolution. If you know people who do, then their explanation is coming from a fundamental misunderstanding or restricted view of evolutionary science.

    If your contention, rather, is that “random mutations” aren’t involved in the process of natural selection… I know some biochemists you should talk to 😛

  100. Willyon 21 May 2015 at 7:50 pm

    hardnose: OK, I bite. I’m guessing something as well known as the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics doesn’t qualify to meet your criteria because of some bizarre “gotcha” you’ve got up your sleeve. Show me the error of my ignorance.

  101. DietRichColaon 21 May 2015 at 7:56 pm

    It’s okay Willy… I bit too… I’m sure there was some nuance to the statement I missed…

  102. Steven Novellaon 21 May 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Just so that other readers of the comments are clear, the statements about god creating humans vs evolution are not mine. They are Gallup’s. They are useful only in that they have been asking the exact same questions for 30+ years. They are of course oversimplifications, and they bias the results by how the questions are asked. But they are at least consistent so can probably tell use something about cultural trends.

    I am not an atheist activist. I am a scientific skeptic – I promote science and critical thinking. I am also an agnostic – I do not profess any metaphysical knowledge about inherently unknowable propositions.

    So, as usually, Hardnose gets it completely wrong.

  103. hardnoseon 21 May 2015 at 8:47 pm

    ” I am also an agnostic – I do not profess any metaphysical knowledge about inherently unknowable propositions.”

    Me too.

  104. arkbaneon 21 May 2015 at 10:12 pm

    The issue has never been the science. That has long since been settled. As with climate change denial, it is a matter of tribalism. Creationists gain a sense of accomplishment and success for doing nothing more than publicly declaring their beliefs to their fellow tribesmen “in the face” of a challenger. To defeat them, it is not the facts that have to be proved, it is the demolishing of their tribal identity that must be achieved. In other words, their tribe has to be discredited in their own eyes. That is a much more difficult task than simply reciting the facts. Those have not been in dispute for over a century.

  105. steve12on 21 May 2015 at 11:40 pm

    “But Darwin’s idea — that natural selection acting on randomly occurring variations is the cause of evolution — has no scientific evidence to support it.”

    HN is not a person, but a bot programmed to say statements that are simultaneously nebulous and stupid.

    Mind you, I’m not breaking my rule and engaging HN. I’m just belittling him, which I do not consider engagement.

  106. steve12on 21 May 2015 at 11:48 pm

    Re: Egnor:

    You know how you know people are spouting agenda driven nonsense? You see how they go when things get down to the nitty-gritty.

    When the actual science comes up – let’s get our hands dirty and talk about the details – Egnor talked about politics. Over and over.

  107. Willyon 22 May 2015 at 12:45 am

    I just wanna cry…

  108. Charonon 22 May 2015 at 2:11 am

    michaelegnor: “You don’t need to drag people into court to get good curricula.”

    This may be the crux of michaelegnor’s whole problem. Clearly not aware that in fact, yes, this is exactly what has had to be done, because the curriculum was becoming non-scientific nonsense and (some) school boards were enthusiastically pushing it.

    Okay, michaelegnor’s other problems are that he doesn’t understand the word “censorship” and also fundamentally misunderstands the nature of school (to learn real things) and also fundamentally misunderstands the nature of scientific debate (which happens in journals and at conferences and not in K-12 classrooms) and fundamentally misunderstands biology (and for that matter physics, which has shown teleology is a silly idea). But still. The obsession with the courts is key, I think.

  109. Robneyon 22 May 2015 at 2:31 am

    “[In 1982 44% of Americans endorsed the statement: “God created humans in their present form.”]

    [There has been a trend in the number of people willing to endorse the statement that humans evolved without any involvement from God]

    Most people don’t believe either of these”

    This was a finding in the Gallup poll being discussed and I think a similar trend was identified in the recent Pew poll. On what basis do you claim ‘most people’ believe neither of these statements?

    “You pretend there are two options”

    Where was this stated?

    “both of them irrational and unscientific”

    In what way is the statement that ‘humans evolved without any involvement from God’ unscientific? What evidence is there that Humans evolved with the involvement of God?

  110. Robneyon 22 May 2015 at 2:34 am

    Sorry, that was aimed at hardnose

  111. Robneyon 22 May 2015 at 2:43 am

    @ Charonon

    I thought that too, michaelegnor admitted that ID was bad science but then claimed “You don’t need to drag people into court to get good curricula.”. When this was exactly what was needed! It went to court because all other attempts to remove it from the curriculum failed.

    This wasn’t a curtailment of anyone’s freedoms or censorship. ID’ers are still free to publish their research in public forums and in scientific journals. That they can’t meet the standard of scientific journals is not the scientific community’s fault and does not amount to cencorship of their ideas.

    And if they can’t meet the standards of evidence required in science their ideas can hardly be taught as science to children in publicly funded schools. How can some people not see this?

  112. Bill Openthalton 22 May 2015 at 4:52 am

    DietRichCola —

    Taking creationism out of science classrooms and relegating it to philosophy or religious studies is simply putting it where it belongs, not attempting to suppress the ideas of those who espouse it.

    (Emphasis mine)

    And this is why they want ID in the science classrooms — science is widely perceived as universal, while philosophy and religion are personal matters which are gleefully ignored by most pupils (or at least those pupils the religious crowd would like to influence). Religion needs to present itself as scientific to be accepted by the majority of people, an acceptance which is the goal of the committed believers.

  113. RickKon 22 May 2015 at 10:06 am

    Charon said: “The obsession with the courts is key, I think.”

    Don’t worry -he’s completely aware. He’s just flogging the “courts” point as a rhetorical ploy. Here is the recipe:

    – I object to some scientific facts and conclusions because they conflict with my religion.
    – I get some sympathetic teachers or school board members to help me.
    – I push patently religiously-motivated pseudoscientific lessons onto the students.
    – Parents complain, and when nothing changes, they call a lawyer or the ACLU.
    – I get stopped by an annoyed judge quoting the Establishment Clause.
    – I fall down like a soccer player trying to draw a foul and scream “censorship!” until I’m blue in the face.

    See how that works? And if I’m REALLY intellectually dishonest and am willing to sacrifice all integrity in the promotion of my particular beliefs, I claim that science (and presumably other) curricula should be determined by the wishes of the local community rather than by experts in the field.

    For an example of all of the above, see michaelegnor’s comments in this thread. And for a more formal treatment of this strategy, see “The Wedge Document”.

  114. Bill Openthalton 22 May 2015 at 10:44 am

    RickK —

    People resorting to these kinds of tactics must be really insecure about their beliefs.

  115. Pete Aon 22 May 2015 at 11:11 am

    @arkbane,

    The alt-med empire (aka sCAM) keeps trying to integrate itself into the UK NHS, which is, I think, similar to creationism/ID trying to integrate itself into school science classes. They both use the same tiresome tactic along the lines of: “Science doesn’t know everything therefore our doctrines have equal validity and acceptability in the modern world.”

    Tribes don’t flourish by being right (factually correct and rational); they flourish by being different, controversial, dogmatic, highly vocal, and attracting widespread attention — many thrive on creating mutual hostility then frequently playing their victim cards (e.g. the censorship card).

    Using skepticism and science against them is akin to fighting a diesel fire with water, which makes the fire worse and it is likely to injure the firefighter(s).

    Humans are innately tribalistic. Close family members come first, personal friends second, like-minded groups of people third, etc. Every outsider who disagrees with the shared beliefs of the tribe is taken to be an attack (or declaring war) on all the members of the tribe, rather than as an opportunity to engage in rational dialogue for the purpose of creating peace and harmony.

    Creationists, other religious fundamentalists, and believers in alt-med, perhaps view science as a terrifying weapon of mass destruction that is pointed straight at them, which continues to grow more powerful, and it needs to be systematically dismantled and/or outright banned from being deployed.

    If each of the tribes that I’ve mentioned embraced critical thinking skills and science then they would lose their unique identities, thus fade into anonymity. I can’t think of any reason why such tribes would embrace self-destruction.

    Some teachers of communication and debating skills have found it useful to have their students prepare, then engage in debates, defending not their own beliefs, but those of their opponent — i.e., a role reversal. I have found this technique to be not only highly instructive, but also of paramount importance to the success of mission-critical engineering projects. I’m offering this as a suggestion to the skeptical community especially because it seems that quite a few of us have walked the very long and painful road that stretches from early childhood indoctrination to finally becoming a vocal skeptic many decades later.

  116. Vidur_Kapuron 22 May 2015 at 2:26 pm

    @michaelegnor

    You mention how the history of the heliocentric theory of the solar system was replaced with the geocentric theory is taught in science, and you regard this as a good thing.

    As somebody living in Britain who is currently studying Biology at high school, I can tell you that the fact that many people initially objected to Darwin’s ideas, and that some still do for a variety of reasons, was mentioned and was even part of the curriculum for the courses I have studied.

    It didn’t change the fact that evolution by natural selection was still taught to be accepted by the vast majority of experts in the field, with the evidence for evolution being highlighted and taught too.

    I don’t know whether I’ve read all of your comments, but surely this satisfies your criteria of good science teaching based on your comment concerning the theory of heliocentrism?

    I am friends with a Christian creationist and at least two Muslim creationists, and this wasn’t good enough for them: their clear objective is to teach Intelligent Design and/or creationism as at least being on par with evolution in terms of plausibility in the science classroom. This just is not the case in the scientific community, however.

  117. MikeLewinskion 22 May 2015 at 7:51 pm

    I really like Michael Dowd’s book Thank God for Evolution and generally recommend it as an example for how Christian faith can be compatible with Science. His FAQ lays out some of that, but also see the link to The Great Story in the navigation bar.

    http://www.thankgodforevolution.com/faq

  118. rezistnzisfutlon 22 May 2015 at 11:58 pm

    I used to be an outright anti-theist as my own biases led me to believe that religion was the biggest threat to science and rational thinking. Then I began to see the same kind of faulty thinking that leads to religious belief was present in virtually all other groups, even those who label themselves “skeptics”, although the advantage skeptics have over most groups in this regard is that they tend to be more aware of it. And in my estimation, there are other issues that are more of a threat than creationism, though it’s still a problem. I also think that creationism is in a decline, especially the more extreme forms of it like YEC.

    While it’s fine and good to pick and choose one’s battles because, let’s face it, we’re finite beings who can only do so much, to downplay other issues or to think that one’s pet issue is more important is fallacious, too.

    What is more important, IMO, is the faulty thinking that drives things like creationism, anti-GMO/vax, woo, and other forms of pseudoscience. What I’ve noticed is that when a region of the world becomes less religious, they adopt other nonsense to take its place. It simply is an artifact of the human brain that appears to be universal.

    And many so-called skeptical groups have become rife with their own forms of apparently unaware faulty thinking – this is usually evident when they fail to acknowledge that they have biases and often form opinions based on ideology, and fail to distinguish between ideology and fact.

    So, even if we manage to largely abolish

  119. grabulaon 28 May 2015 at 10:14 pm

    @ michealegnor

    “I was quite amazed, when I first got involved in this, how readily scientists used courts to censor scientific discussion. I have been raised and educated to believe that science was about open discussion of evidence. Why bring federal judges into it? ”

    On occasion there are people who mistake their “theories” as having validity, and these people, say those who believe in Intelligent Design, persist in trying to get it included in the scholastic arena as if it was valid, and needed to be given equal time. If you can’t provide a sound theory, can’t provide reasonable evidence for that theory, but you persist in pestering teachers and professors to teach it, what other recourse do you have?

  120. Clemanceon 31 May 2015 at 11:47 am

    Dear Dr. Novella,

    I have pondered and agonized over the “big questions” of life forwell over half a century. I am an artist so am not extremely well versed in science. However, through constantly asking those questions like, how did we get here?, I have come to some conclusions and I am happy to report I am a skeptic to the core. I consider the theory of evolution one of the most logical, yet beautiful, answers to my most important inquiries. I listen to “Big Picture Science” and “Skeptics Guide to the Universe” each week. I am deeply grateful to people like you for making it your life’s purpose to bring truth and understanding to people like me. LOVE your podcast.

    Clémance

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