09 October 2005

Another Dover news carnival

After spending most of the week stranded deep in the mire of proposal writing, I've rewarded myself with a day off. Actually, it's not so much a matter of rewarding myself as it is a matter of attempting to resusitate the last remaining shreds of my sanity. So instead of continuing to pickle my brains in the volumnous literature surrounding the history of genetic divergence in various species of Drosophila, I decided to take some time to skim through a number of the news articles that the Dover trial has spawned in the last week. (Why I thought this would help maintain my sanity should serve to indicate just how brain-corroding the scientific proposal process actually is.)

Rather than taking as inclusive a look as I did last time, I think I'm mostly going to focus on the more annoying articles this time. It might just have been my mood this week, but it certainly felt like there was a heck of a lot more stupidity being aired this time.

To lead things off, we have an editorial in the York Daily Record. This was somewhat disappointing, since their coverage of the whole Dover affair has been, overall, outstanding. (I should probably note that the author is a copy editor, and that this may constitute "community opinion" rather than that of the editorial board. In his piece, titled: "Don't settle for separate but equal", Dave Dentel writes:
The truth is that anyone who’s being intellectually honest will admit that science can never be divorced from religion, that a person’s philosophical outlook will always affect how he or she interprets nature’s phenomena. Honest people will also admit that Darwinism supports a definite philosophy about nature, one that is hostile to theistic faith held by many Americans.

This is why I find the Dover plaintiffs’ arguments disingenuous. Their witnesses, like many adherents to Darwinism, insist modern science respects religion when in reality it marginalizes it and usurps its authority.
Mr. Dentel needs to learn that "his religion" is not necessarily equal to "all religion", and that there is a big difference between "hostile to theistic faith" and "hostile to a theistic faith". There are plenty of people out there who really do believe that science provides the best explanation for the way that the physical world works, but that science also only explans how the world works. The why questions are not addressable by science, but that does not make them any less real. Dentel goes on to conclude with this set of concerns:
What does this means for students? It means that explicitly and implicitly they’re taught that science trumps faith.

It means they learn that men in white lab coats — the ones who offer medicines, iPods and weapons of mass destruction — speak with greater authority than pastors, rabbis and priests. It means they’ll be told the reason they exist is no reason at all, just chance, mutation and blind law.

And chances are they’ll believe it, because after all, it’s based on science.
Mr. Dentel, scientists do speak with more authority than pastors, rabbis, and priests - when it comes to the nature of the physical world. That does not mean that scientists should be accepted as speaking with authority when they talk about things, like meaning, that are beyond the nature of science. If students believe that science trumps faith, it is because fools like you - or, for that matter, like Richard Dawkins - continue to insist that there is an absolute, either/or choice between science and religion.

Moving along, the Kingsport (Tennessee) Times-News ran an article on "local debate". I honestly can't tell why they used the word "debate" in the headline, since there really wasn't much of one there. They presented the malformed opinions of some twit of a "biology" teacher at a local "Christian" school, and then, presumably for balance, decided to close the article with the "contrasting" views of a lawyer/preacher who is a firm Intelligent Design proponent. The net effect of the article was to convince me that Kingsport is definitely not going to appear on the list of the ten places I want to move to. (This news will probably come as a relief to them, too.) The article quotes one Dora Phillips, who, it is alleged, is a "biology" teacher at a local "Christian School":
Phillips does not pretend to be unbiased about her approach.

"We have our own bias that are opposed to evolutionists' views. Evolutionists have biases too."
She's right. I freely admit it. I'm biased. I have a massive, bias that nobody will ever be able to shift me from. I firmly believe that it is an absolute moral wrong to teach children material that is nothing short of a flat-out lie. Phillips continues:
"Good science is based on three things: observations, the ability to measure those observations, and the repeatability of those measurements and observations. If those three things are not there, then it is a theory, not science," she said. "Creationists have not seen God design the universe, but evolutionists have not seen anything evolve from one species to another species, so we have a little more support than the evolutionists."
Wow. I realize that this is a private school, and that it doesn't receive government funding, but I still can't believe that anyone finds it acceptable to have someone who clearly lacks any comprehension of the way science really works teach the topic. The article then shifts the focus of the "debate" from this so-called "teacher" to Doug Tweed, who is a Methodist minister and a lawyer:
"This is not a case about defending religion. This is a case about defending truth as it is being discovered in the scientific community, and at the same time, trying to shed some light on the fact the position taken by the plaintiffs, even though they deny it, also has a religious motivation to deny the existence of God," Tweed said.
No, Doug. This isn't about anything that is being "discovered in the scientific community." Were it, there would actually be some discussion taking place in the scientific community. Not in courtrooms, not in schoolboard meetings, not in newspaper op-eds, but in scientific journals, at scientific conferences, and above all else, in laboratories.

Next on our list of unintelligent commentary on intelligent design, we have an opinion piece by Charlie Mitchell, editor of the Vicksburg (Mississippi) Post. Mitchell attempts to depict the current court case as a battle between the extremists on two sides of a religious battle:
Evolution has become the norm in science textbooks — underline science. In some jurisdictions, creationists have objected. Although they may want more, they insist that "intelligent design" must at least be mentioned.

This, in turn, spurred the ever-vigilant church-state separation crowd into fits of protest. They insist that for a teacher to mention the possibility of a guiding force in the universe is tantamount to trying to trick vulnerable little minds into becoming — oh no — Christians. Few will admit it, but from their narrow view, they believe Christians are the bane of human existence.
It's interesting, in a way. The more obvious it becomes in court that the Dover school board was motivated by religion, the more desparate people like Mitchell become to depict those opposed to the Dover school board as being motivated by religion, too.

That paragon of Moonie virtue, The Washington Times, has an OpEd on the topic by one Woody Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman, in a farily short article, manages to trot out just about every tired old creationist standard that the world has ever seen. I particularly enjoyed this one:
Darwinism's "holy grail" would be species-crossovers found in the fossil record to fill those pesky "gaps." But the grail remains elusive. Occasionally a jawbone or tooth, etc., has been proclaimed as evidence of a long-sought "missing link." These hopes have died when the artifact traced to one species or another, never to an intermediate.
As far as fighting creationists goes, I sometimes think that it would be better if we never found another intermediate - because, as far as jokers like this are concerned, every time we find an intermediate it just gives them two new gaps to complain about - one on each side of the new find.

There's more idiocy out there, but that just about does it for my tolerance this week. But don't worry. The trial's not over for a while yet, so we should see plenty more foolishness before it's all over.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Keanus said...

For the record, Dave Dentel, the author of the screed in the York Daily Record, is their in-house creationist troll. He's a staff copy editor, not a reporter, columnist or editor, but he's been allowed to author a number of creationist apologies since the Dover brouhaha publicly erupted in 2004. All have been just as far from the truth as the most recent. Since he knows little of what he's talking about but can write decently, his columns convey an air of veracity that they don't deserve. I truly wonder why the senior staff gives him such license.

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Eugene Lai said...

If students believe that science trumps faith, it is because fools like you - or, for that matter, like Richard Dawkins - continue to insist that there is an absolute, either/or choice between science and religion.

I hope you do not mean that Dawkins is a fool. Dawkins' reasoning is logically bulletproof.

Every mainstream religion, in order to coexist with modern discovery, must regard their holy text non-literal. This is a manifestation of god-of-the-gap theory, because they have no issue considering the text literal until it is untenable to do so.

As far as I know, there is not a single instance in history, where a piece of holy text is declared non-literal before that fact is discovered.

Or worse still, the holy text is simply ignored - regarded as relevent only in historical context. That is another classic case of pick-and-choose what you want to hear, which is widely practised by creationists are is rightfully condemned.

Dawkins, on the other hand, have a belief system that does not assume what you cannot prove, and at the same time uphold the moral value that religions claim is exclusive to a god believing faith.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Eugene Lai said...

Great post otherwise.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been to Kingsport TN and no you don't want to move there. . .

3:06 AM  
Blogger ruidh said...

As far as I know, there is not a single instance in history, where a piece of holy text is declared non-literal before that fact is discovered.

Whan an absurd and ignorant statement. During the Middle Ages, allegorical interpretations of Christian scripture were all the rage. Allegorical interpretations are certainly non-literal.

Dawkins, on the other hand, have a belief system that does not assume what you cannot prove, and at the same time uphold the moral value that religions claim is exclusive to a god believing faith.

There are several categories of statements: true and provable, true and not provable, false and falsifiable, false and not falsifiable. If Dawkins accepts only provable statements as true, then he is ignoring non-provable truth.

The fact is that very few statements rise to the level of mathematical certainty. We all have to act and make choices in the presence of uncertainty. I take it as clear that most faith statements are neither provable nor falsifiable. Dawkins has no insight to offer here. He is out of his depth.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Raven Travillian said...

Interesting that Dentel uses "don't settle" as the basis for his argument. I use it in my teaching and writing as well, although my conclusion is 180-degrees different from his.

When teaching basics of the scientific method to laypeople, I teach them that learning about science means they don't have to settle for junk science, pseudo-science, or anti-science. It is empowering to realize that if they make the effort to learn, they can actually do science--and that that fact hooks them into a network of people, trust, and understanding that transcends individual, filtered perception.

So yes, Mr. Dentel, you are correct that no one should settle for "separate but (un)equal" access to ideas. It is just a shame that you then turn around and advocate just the anti-science, marginalized, second-rate isolation you claim to be arguing against.

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Eugene Lai said...

First, my apology for taking this discussion off topic.

During the Middle Ages, allegorical interpretations of Christian scripture were all the rage

This is not at all inconsistent with my assertion. Middle Ages spans the fifth to fifteen centuries, a very long time after the scripture is written. The key is why a allegorical instead of literal approach was taken. You did not mention why, but I suspect it was so because the literal approach did not make sense in Middle Ages anymore.

The fact is that very few statements rise to the level of mathematical certainty. We all have to act and make choices in the presence of uncertainty. I take it as clear that most faith statements are neither provable nor falsifiable. Dawkins has no insight to offer here. He is out of his depth.

Dawkins does not simply assert the "not falsifiable" to be false. Certain statements, while impossible to categorically prove or disprove, can be assessed on the basis of likelihood. Dawkins draws from available evidence and concludes that the assertions religions made are much more likely to be false than true.

Among the evidence, one is that the holy texts are routinely (re)interpreted figuratively or completely ignored, making it largely arbitrary, and therefore cannot represent the absolute truth that people claim they represent.

This is a serious problem for every religion I know, and I refuse to just look the other way. Your Middle Ages example, if any thing, strengthens my argument.

Religious people reject other religions using this arument all the time. There is no reason why the logic should not be applied across the board. He who takes this position should not be dismissed as a fool. Do you really think other religions in the world are as true as yours? If not, why?

10:24 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Well, I wish I could get an audio file of the courtroom proceedings.
If ID is held to be able to be legally taught in public schools, I honestly think I will give up on this wonderful nation and sprint to Canada. The idea that a science class would be usurped to teach religious ideas sickens me.

7:23 PM  

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