Thursday, October 20, 2005

What did the Czech Republic ever do to deserve this?

I was supposed to travel to Kansas today to attend Chimpanzoo 2005, being held at the Rolling Hills Wildlife Refuge in Salina. Since I couldn’t make it this year (bummer), I figured at least I could go there virtually with a visit to the Red State Rabble blog, where I frequently stop to find some well-written mid-western common sense. And there I found a link to this wonderful editorial in the Prague Post with a nice dose of central European common sense.

Apparently some ID advocates are attempting to spread pseudo-science to Europe and are holding some sort of conference in Prague this week. The Prague Post editorial board notes:

[I]n a few years, Intelligent Design will be little more than a curious historical detour on the road to knowledge, like a giant ball of twine on a long highway's roadside, interesting only for its oddity.

But it is surprising in this day and age that some religious theorists continue to feel compelled to impose theological concepts on the scientific world — a practice just as preposterous as if physics tried to explain the difference between good and evil or the meaning of life. And in a way, needing to cloak a religious doctrine with the veneer of science is almost an admission of its defect — true faith doesn't require scientific proof, since the definition of faith is to have belief in the absence of proof.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I can’t understand it, so it must be science

The York Daily Record is my first stop each day for breaking news and commentary about the Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District trial. This week the defense began calling witnesses. First up, Lehigh University professor Michael J. Behe, who contends that Intelligent Design really, really “is a scientific theory because it relies on empirical, observable facts and logical inferences.”

“’We infer design when we see parts that appear to be arranged for a purpose,’ he said.” (Dover defense presents case)

The “theory” of intelligent design essentially says: “If science can’t figure something out (yet), then it must be intelligent design.” End of story. Let’s not look any further.

Today when I read this story about Monday’s session -- Court fills for defense's case -- I had an ah-ha moment. Reporter Michelle Starr interviewed some of the many trial spectators. One Jack Schultz, a retired engineer, said he had come believing “intelligent design was not a science and that it belonged in philosophy or religion classes.” But after hearing part of Behe’s testimony, Schultz was reconsidering.

"He seems to be making a strong case," Jack Schultz said. "Maybe it seems more scientific than I thought. I can't put it all together yet. I still have trouble with the science aspect of it."

In other words, he doesn’t really understand what Behe is talking about, but it sure sounds scientific. That seems to be what the IDers want us all to do. I can’t figure it out, so let’s not look any deeper. Call it science. Call it intelligent design. Call it quits.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Will it ever end? Not likely.

Ran across this commentary about the Dover, PA school board trial in the Daily Herald, a central Utah newspaper. “Why is Charles Darwin still on trial?” by Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center.

Haynes neatly summarizes the trial and concludes …

Whatever the outcome, the crusade against evolution is bound to go on. Why? Because from Dayton to Dover, many religious people still see evolution as the great enemy of faith. "Darwinism entirely changes one's view of life," thundered William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes trial, "and undermines faith in the Bible."

What's sad about all this is how self-defeating these efforts are. When believers insist on "proving" religion through science, they are playing on the wrong field. If religion needs scientific proof to be true, it would no longer be authentic religion. It's not called "faith" for nothing.

Of course, science has implications for religious belief. That's why a dialogue between religion and science is needed, but only if both sides understand the language and the method -- and respect the limits -- of the other.

Dover, like Dayton, isn't about dialogue -- it's about people shouting past one another. Eighty years ago, Scopes lost. This time around religion may be the big loser, and that would be unfortunate, indeed.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Religion as personal fragrance

Much of the contention around the teaching of evolution is based on the mistaken belief that evolution is atheistic. Evolution and science in general have nothing to do with religion, but people who are convinced that it does keep injecting the bible into the discussion.

I tend to think in analogies. The other day it occurred to me that religion – or personal belief – is a lot like perfume. Many people wear a personal fragrance in the form of cologne or aftershave, but there are differences in the way they wear it.

Most individuals apply their personal fragrance in such a way that only people who are close to them can detect it. They know it’s there. Their family and close friends catch a hint of it from time to time, and anyone who is welcome into their home may glimpse the label on the bottle.

Then there are those who splash their fragrance on so generously it becomes a public olfactory statement. Their odor demands attention, drowning out subtler scents in the vicinity. (Sometimes people overdo the cologne as a way to cover up a less desirable smell, like smoke or poor hygiene. It doesn’t work.)

And finally there are the spritzers. You know, the ladies in the cosmetics department who squirt you as you walk past. Never mind that you already have your preferred fragrance or that you might be allergic, the spritzers insist that everyone is going to smell just like them.

In this country we are free to wear whatever scent we want, but we don’t have the right to push it up anyone else’s nose.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

To debate or not to debate ... and how?

A few weeks back the evolution blogs were buzzing about yet another screed about why science has got it all wrong. As usual, the offending article was written by someone with no scientific background who was confident that his ability to copy and paste the boilerplate text of ID proponents trumped years of study by actual scientists. The blogging got rather heated, and it led to some interesting discussions about the best way to talk to people about evolution and the phony “teach both sides” debate.

The charge was led by PZ Meyers at Pharyngula who is a proponent of the “humiliate them into submission” school of argument. While I don’t find this method to be particularly effective, I can understand the frustration and irritation of career scientists who find themselves constantly challenged by people who have never actually bothered to do science. The Pharyngula 9/20 post “Evolutionary Strategery” continues the discussion. It includes a link back to Meyers’ dissection of the article (for want of a better word) by one Timothy Birdnow and dozens of comments that illustrate the issues.

For me, the real keeper in the post was a pointer to the Wedgie Document, a guide to arguing with creationists on the Internet, by a blogger who calls himself Comissar. This answer to the creationists’ notorious Wedge Document offers common sense guidelines for having a discussion with someone whose mind is closed without insulting those who are listening … and who might be open to learning something.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Soon ...

Hooray. The DSL is finally up and running. Still some work to do on the wireless network and setting up new email address, etc. But I hope to be back to blogging in the not-too-distant future.

But who has time to blog for an audience of ... no one? ... when there is so much going on in PA?!?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


I'm still back. And still delinquent.

I have spent hours online and on the phone in the past couple of weeks trying to get DSL. Still not working.

When not fighting with the phone company, I have been obsessively following the news from Dover. That would be Dover, PA, where the trial is underway in the lawsuit by eight families who are suing the local school board over the requirement to read a statement to students that calls evolution into question.

For in-depth coverage, you can check out the Panda's Thumb blog and the pages that link off that central site.