Saturday, September 08, 2007

On the radio

I'm going to try to keep my other blog -- my travel blog -- free of politics, but I had to record this:

On day two of my trip, while I was driving through the narrow part of Idaho, I was twiddling with the radio dial. I ran across a talk program with a guest (Frank Turek?) who had written a book entitled I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. He and the host were dissing science, and Frank actually used the phrase "From goo to zoo to you."

Then just today, on I-90 outside Rapid City, SD, I was again playing radio roulette. I caught someone reading a Seuss-sounding poem and heard something about a watch. Sure enough, it was Paley's watchmaker set to child-friendly rhyming. And "goo to you" managed to fit in there.

During the past week as I've toured geology museums and fossil-fabulous parks, the messages have been so clear and so strong. For anybody who wants to know about the geological history of the planet and the ancient life forms that have been uncovered there is no shortage of resources. I guess some people would just rather listen to their own voices or to people who tell them that studying science is a waste of time.

Friday, September 07, 2007

On the road .. and on another blog

On Labor Day I set out on a two-month road trip. I'm documenting my travels on a dedicated blog titled Ape4Apes -- On the Road.

I plan to visit lots of primates of the non-human variety, but where apes are lacking I am learning about geology and dinosaurs and fossils. I've been both impressed and enlightened by the signage at the museums and parks I've visited so far.

I'll be passing right by Petersburg, Kentucky, but time is too precious to waste with a visit to the Creation "Museum." Although I would highly recommend a visit to the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.

Please visit my other blog and leave some comments.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Long time. no post

Yes, I know. I haven't blogged in a very, very, very long time. But hey, when you think about how old the world is -- and I don't mean 6,000 years -- it's been less than a nanosecond.

I haven't been ignoring the issues. In fact, I spend way too much time reading other blogs. And letters to the editor. And books even. (Read Ed Humes' Monkey Girl. Very good.) Not sure I have anything more to add on the subject of this blog, although it still fascinates me.

In a couple of months I will be heading out on a 2-month trip around the country. Some days of hard driving and some days volunteering at primate sanctuaries. I intend to start a new blog to document my adventures. I'll link from here just in case anyone -- anyone at all? -- is the least little bit interested.

I may be passing through Cincinnati, which is apparently not far from the new Creation "Museum." I can't imagine that I would feel inclined to give them any of my money, but if I found a free pass or a deeply discounted ticket ... well, maybe I would subject myself to the experience. In which case I would definitely report back here.

Still, I think the odds are pretty slim. I'd rather go to the Cincinnati and Columbus zoos where, I understand, they have bonobos. A much more interesting use of my precious time.

Sooooo. If there is anyone out there reading this, check back again around Labor Day for a link to the trip blog. (Don't know yet what I will title it.) Better yet, leave a comment.

[Note: The invitation to leave a comment does NOT apply to presidential candidates or to individuals with a tenuous grasp of reality -- and you know who you are.]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Get Motivated … and get dumb

What does evolution have to do with personal success? Apparently, not a lot, at least according to motivational guru Zig Ziglar.

On Monday, October 9, Portland, Oregon, was the site of a “Get Motivated!” business seminar, described by Oregonian reporter Dylan Rivera as a “national cultural phenomenon of celebrities cashing in on their fame by speaking to businesspeople eager to recharge their morale.” Featured speakers in Portland included Colin Powell and Rudy Giuliani.

To his credit, Rivera does not let himself get seduced by the mood of the event. Instead of delivering a gushing piece about the energy in the hall, he calls out the little clues that reveal the cultish aspect of these mega events. He notes, for example, that

“Speakers advised audience members to believe in themselves, know what they want, hone communication skills and, several said, believe in God, preferably the conservative Christian version.”

And then somehow our favorite subject comes up:

“The crowd roared when Zig Ziglar – ‘America's #1 Motivator,’ event advertising says -- belittled the concept of evolution.”

“’I'm not a scientist or a prophet, but I'm going to predict that in 10 years' time, the theory of evolution will be just a bad joke that hung around too long,’ Ziglar said.”

I can’t, for the life of me, imagine how that comment found its way into the context of a motivational seminar. Maybe it’s all about the power of words. Words can overcome anything … even science … and facts … and reason. Maybe we should save that quote, and if Mr. Ziglar is still out there motivating in October 2016, someone can ask him about it.

Too weird.

Update: More reporting on the Portland event can be found at Disney, Republicans and Spirituality

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Drosophila melanogaster, my cousin

There’s a cute article by James Gorman in today’s New York Times. (I settled on the word “cute” because the accompanying drawing tickles me.)

In “It’s Not Just Apes; Fruit Flies Are Our Cousins, Too,” Gorman ponders the fact that so many people (read: Americans) get bent out of shape at the suggestion that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. Inspired by a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about fruit flies experiencing sleep disruptions as they age, he considers what else we have in common with these distant cousins. He’s not worried about his kinship with animals and doesn’t understand why others are.

“This is fine with me. I’m delighted to be related to flies, yeast, frogs, chimps and blue-green algae. I find the serenity of algae restful and the ambition of yeast admirable. Frogs are great jumpers. Chimps have hands at the end of their feet, sort of. And fruit flies, well, I never met a fruit fly that I was ashamed to share genes with, and I certainly can’t say that about human beings.”

BTW I have to confess, I only learned how to pronounce “drosophila” a few weeks ago. I'm not even going to attempt "melanogaster."

And while you’re in NYT, take a gander at the collection of letters in response to the Lawrence Krauss August 15 essay “How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate,” (which is -- amazingly -- still available as I compose this post).

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Worth reading. Click through while it’s still free.

In “The language of life” (7/30/2006) LA Times staff writer Robert Lee Hotz discusses talking back to evolution doubters. Not arguing, but rather talking sense.

In the border war between science and faith, the doctrine of "intelligent design" is a sly subterfuge — a marzipan confection of an idea presented in the shape of something more substantial.

Until recently… those scientists most qualified to defend evolutionary biology were strangely reluctant to confront these dissenters publicly. Now, in three quite different books — a collection of essays, a biography of Charles Darwin's intellectual life and a debunker's guide to the debate — some of the nation's most distinguished thinkers step forward as expert witnesses to challenge the ruse of intelligent design directly.

Taken together, these works are essential reading for anyone who sincerely wants to "teach the controversy" as intelligent design advocates so often urge — or to understand its dishonesty. As distillations of the best thinking on this ploy, they ought to be required reading for every high school science teacher and school board member in America.

Oh, yes, the three books under discussion are

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen

Intelligent Thought: Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement, edited by John Brockman

Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Labels as arguments

Yesterday I wrote about the discussion around the Kansas anti-science science standards going on at Ars Technica, a “PC enthusiast” website. It’s interesting the way these discussions about how biological evolution should be taught in public school classrooms almost invariably turn to religion.

The IDers (aka intelligent design creationists, IDers, IDiots, or Discovery Institutesee also) insist (bang fist on table) that intelligent design is science and is absolutely not (bang fist again) a way to get their religion into the science classroom. But just let them keep talking/writing and you will hear/see words like “atheist,” “bible,” "god,” and the ever-popular “anti-religion” or “anti-christian” creep into their arguments.

The discussion following the Ars Technica article (“Will the Kansas school board be intelligently redesigned?”) was no different – although it was a bit more subdued than many I have seen. And like many discussions (read: arguments) I have followed, it turned to how to define labels like “agnostic” and “atheist.”

So today I open the Saturday edition of The Oregonian and find that the front page of the Living section features an Ethics & Values article about how these labels are defined – and how they are used.

In “agnostic atheist humanist -- What do those words mean? Less -- and more -- than you think” reporter Nancy Haught quotes Courtney Campbell, head of the philosophy department at Oregon State University:

"What's happened in popular culture, is that the terms used to be descriptive, and now they are evaluative. That leads to some confusion, stereotyping and mislabeling."

And Haught notes:

That tendency to link -- or leap -- from atheism to questions of morality is evidence that many Americans are not using words such as atheist, agnostic or humanist in descriptive ways anymore.

"The terms come out of contexts that are value-laden," says Campbell, the OSU professor. "That's why they become very controversial."

When I first delved into this “debate” about evolution, I couldn’t understand why some people kept conflating this branch of science with religion. On a personal level, I still don’t understand, but I accept that for many people these “nonoverlapping magisteria” are not going to be reasoned apart. So, we can’t ignore the issue and we’d better figure out an effective way to discuss it.

Sidenote: My dad always warned me never to argue religion or politics. Since this “war” over evolution is a political (not a scientific) controversy, and we can’t extricate it from the religious world view of some of the combatants, I guess I’ll need to focus on how to keep the discussion from evolving to argument.

And, yes, I am aware that I inserted editorial comment into my labels for intelligent design proponents in the second paragraph above.