Friday, April 28, 2006

Teaching Evolution, Pt. II

Part II of John Timmer's summary of the New York University Conference on teaching science is here. Timmer writes that:

The first talk in the morning session [of the second day] was from Gerald Skoog, who runs a science education center at Texas Tech.

Skoog noted that there are three pressures for teaching creationism (including ID) in public schools. The first is simply to provide a historic context for evolution, which can be appropriate or abused, depending on the teacher. The second is that some are convinced that there is positive scientific evidence for creationist views, which is where improving scientific education and outreach should come in. The final issue is probably the most challenging: teaching all sides of an issue as a matter of fairness. He suggested that science needs to come up with a compelling slogan in answer to the "teach the controversy" demand used by its opponents, but I did not hear one offered during the conference.

Actually, there is a slogan already in circulation. It says "There is no controversy." It's a form of denial, to be sure, but it's symptomatic of those about to suffer an unexpected defeat that they first resort to denying the imminent realities.

Skoog was followed by Jennifer Miller, a biology teacher in Dover...Miller's talk ... made clear that the school administration, which typically lacks scientific training, played a key role at many stages in Dover, and it was noted during the discussion that they also have ultimate control over the hiring of science faculty, and can thereby shape the teaching of science in their schools. As such, it seems that raising the scientific literacy at the administration levels of schools should also become a priority.

Fat chance of that happening. Most school administrators were not science teachers before they got their administrative certification, and many of them were scarcely even teachers in any discipline. To raise their science literacy to the point where they could be expected to make competent decisions about the content of science curricula, or make informed judgments concerning the nuances of the demarcation problem, would require many credits of science-oriented education. Not many administrators have either the time or the inclination to subject themselves to that.

Next up was Glenn Branch of the NCSE (National Council for Science Education), which, as he puts it, spends its time putting out brushfires of evolution controversy around the nation. His talk focused on the efforts of creationists to gain a footing in collegiate settings, with the ultimate goal of gaining credentialed supporters to advance their cause. He tracked how many formerly religious or creationist campus organizations have recently morphed into pro-ID "IDEA Clubs." Branch noted that the religious nature of the national IDEA organization was obvious in the fact that it has only recently dropped its requirement for members to be Christian. These clubs hope to foster debate on campus, but Branch suggested they were best avoided. Many creationists are far more skilled at arguments that appeal to a non-scientific audience than scientists are, and debates draw a crowd. In the absence of the legitimacy conferred by debate, the attendance at IDEA clubs is usually limited to a few committed activists.

So, these clubs are suspect because they contain Christians and because their members are skillful debaters. It's best not to engage these creationists in open debate, evidently, lest the rabble be misled to believe that the evolutionists don't have much of a case. This is odd advice to give to the materialist evolutionists. They're being instructed to avoid a public discussion of the issues, a course of inaction which could only serve to keep people in the dark as to what the controversy is all about. The irony of this is that this advice is given at a conference on how to improve science education and public scientific literacy.

One wonders, by the way, if Mr. Branch would be similarly dismissive of a club comprised mostly of atheists devoted to the promotion of evolution. In fact, come to think of it, that's pretty much what the NCSE is.

Branch's final topic was how to handle a situation where a biology department winds up with a creationist as a graduate student. This was both of general interest, as creationists tend to use their degrees as rhetorical weapons, and of personal interest, as I was part of the Berkeley class that produced the noted Discovery Institute fellow Jon Wells. Unfortunately, his conclusion was that there are no easy answers. He did, however, note that graduate departments exist to serve the scientific community by providing qualified individuals to perform research and teaching services. There is no ethical requirement for graduate faculty to be complicit in the training of someone who is ultimately going to actively harm the field.

Hmm. Now here's an interesting dilemma for the evolutionary inquisitors. They keep insisting that creationism is religion, and now they're saying, or at least Mr. Branch is saying, that students should be discriminated against if they're creationists. I.e. universities should actively discriminate against students on the basis of their religious beliefs. That doesn't sound to us like it would pass constitutional muster, but we could be wrong.

Does Mr. Branch also think that a grad student could be discriminated against because of his/her political views? What about students who have ethical objections to experimenting upon, or dissecting, animals? What about students who oppose stem cell research, or cloning, or who favor policies that would result in environmental degradation? Would Mr. Branch say that no graduate school need confer a degree on students who hold to politically unfashionable opinions in the science community? Or is it only a student's religious views which would justify denying him a degree?

[Ken] Miller and Branch were asked what they felt the next development will be now that the latest creationist effort, ID, has been rejected in court. Miller suggested the redefinition of science to include the supernatural, as has happened in Kansas, while Branch expected efforts to "teach the controversy" to predominate.

I think they're both right, although I would quibble with Miller's use of the word "supernatural." In the present climate it's not clear what that word denotes. As we've pointed out before, the word "supernatural" seems to refer to anything which transcends our universe, yet physicists and philosophers discuss the possibility of other universes without thinking that they're discussing anything supernatural.

It would be more precise, perhaps, to say that science might eventually be redefined to allow for extra-cosmic intelligence as a causal agent, and why not, if there's evidence which points that way?

Gas Relief

Well it's the end of the week and I was due for a good laugh and today I got it complements of our government. Our congressmen are thinking about giving us back the dollars we have given them in taxes to pay for the increase in the price of gasoline. What a hoot! But I'm not sure since the article referenced below refers to "millions of taxpayers". Does that include you or me?

At any rate, the idea is totally preposterous as it's simply another example of government intervention in the immutable laws of supply and demand. What our government is attempting to do is enable people to be able to afford to buy gasoline at higher prices and in so doing they are perpetuating the demand for gasoline!

The law of supply and demand tells us that if the price of gasoline goes too high, demand will be diminished because people simply can't afford it. That diminishment in demand causes the price to drop and eventually reach a point of equilibrium. Obviously our government leaders think they are all wise and will solve the problem by throwing money at it.

From the link: WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans unveiled a 10-point plan Thursday that offers a $100 "gas tax holiday" rebate check to millions of taxpayers. Meanwhile, Democrats are proposing a 60-day gasoline tax holiday.

Since our trusted government is in control of the matter, I suspect the price of gasoline will go much, much higher.

From The Mogambo Guru

The Mogambo Guru tells it like it is. For those who will listen this is a must read article.

But what all these groups of people have is common is that they all want to be paid in their own units of purchasing power, which (at $75 a barrel) is about ten pizzas. It makes no difference to them what kind of money you use to pay for the oil, as long as they can exchange it for ten pizzas Preferably, they would like to be paid in units of purchasing power that GAIN in purchasing power, so that tomorrow they can buy eleven pizzas for a barrel of oil. And if not gain, then at least not lose purchasing power, and tomorrow only be able to buy six pizzas!

Unfortunately, the dollar is NOT a currency that is going to gain in purchasing power. It is, on the other hand, one of those currencies that are going to lose purchasing power. So, everybody, including foreign oil exporters, have to charge a higher price for oil just to make up the losses in purchasing power they will suffer until they can actually get around to spending the damned dollars on pizzas!

And it is going to get worse, much worse, as you can readily conclude from Chuck Butler at his famous Daily Pfennig site, who reports that at the latest G-7 meeting (representatives of the seven or so biggest economies in the world), they announced that they all decided that "it was 'critical' for the Asian currencies to let their currencies rise versus the dollar. I would not be surprised if China started spending its dollar reserves on all the crude oil supplies they can purchase - at any price. What will be more valuable to their economy next year, $75 U.S. dollars or a barrel of oil?" In short, will seven pizzas be more valuable than six pizzas next year?


So, the next time you are watching in horror as that gasoline pump is sucking the money out of your wallet ("sluuuurrrrp!") and you wonder why gasoline costs so much, don't be like me and get mad and go running up to the clerk and calling him a cheating, thieving little over-charging bastard from hell. Experience has shown that it won't help.

And anyway, it usually turns out that the kid had nothing to do with the price of gas, but instead the price of gasoline is up because the purchasing power of the dollar fell! And the dollar fell in purchasing power thanks to the horrid Federal Reserve, which has been creating excess money and credit with their every waking moment since the dreadful moment when that hideous creature of fraud and corruption was created in 1913, which was (as Mogambo musicologists know) the inspiration behind the classic Mogambo reggae tune, "The Fed'ral Reserve Be Killin' Me Money, Mon!" which contains the immortal line "Based on lies, and founded on the sly, based on lies and founded on the sly in 1913, mon, me money goin' down, mon, me money goin' down!"

Atlas Shrugged

Here's news for Ayn Rand fans. We've heard these rumors before, but perhaps now plans to make the movie will finally come to fruition:

Ayn Rand's most ambitious novel may finally be brought to the bigscreen after years of false starts. Lionsgate has picked up worldwide distribution rights to Atlas Shrugged from Howard and Karen Baldwin, who will produce with John Aglialoro.

As for stars, the book provides an ideal role for an actress in lead character Dagny Taggart, so it's not a stretch to assume that Rand enthusiast Angelina Jolie's name has been brought up. Brad Pitt, also a fan, is rumored to be among the names suggested for lead male character John Galt.

Atlas Shrugged, which runs more than 1100 pages, has faced a lengthy and circuitous journey to a film adaptation.

The rest of the article explains why.

Raping Reputations

The alleged victim of the alleged unsolicited advances of three members of the Duke Lacrosse team, none of whom anyone would want dating their own daughter, has apparently put the kibosh on the District Attorney's hopes of looking like a hero in the coming election:

The woman who says she was raped by three members of Duke's lacrosse team also told police 10 years ago she was raped by three men, filing a 1996 complaint claiming she had been assaulted three years earlier when she was 14. Authorities in nearby Creedmoor said Thursday that none of the men named in the decade-old report was ever charged but they didn't have details why.

They weren't charged because she declined to press charges, claiming to be afraid for her safety. Okay, that happens. But there was apparently an absence of physical evidence both ten years ago as well as in the recent case, and once a jury hears this history it'll be next to impossible to convict the accused of anything beyond being Division I sleazoids.

A lot of people hitched their wagon to this woman's story. It resonated with people who wanted to believe the very worst of rich white males. Consequently, these young men's lives, and those of their parents, have been seriously compromised. Without any real evidence that a crime had been committed, the president of the university cancelled the lacrosse season, punishing the whole team based on an unsubstantiated allegation against three of its members. Without any proof, pictures of these students, in association with the word "rape," were plastered all across the nation's newspapers and television sets, debasing and humiliating both them and their parents. African-American race hustlers seized the opportunity to blather about the awful history of white on black rape as if it were not the case that interracial rape since the 1960s is overwhelmingly perpetrated by blacks against whites.

We wonder how, if the charges indeed eventually come to naught, all these people will ever apologize to the young men, and to the nation as a whole, for their debased attempt to exploit this sordid event for their own various ignoble purposes. Perhaps a sincere apology will be a lot more than any of the students or their families can reasonably expect.

Two Bad Arguments and Two Better Ones

Here's a link to a very good paper by philosopher of science Jeffrey Koperski on the ID/ evolution issue. He discusses two arguments often made against ID that he identifies as bad arguments and two critical arguments that he feels are more promising.

The "bad" arguments are familiar to anyone who has kept up on the controversy. The first is the attack on the motives of IDers. Critics of ID often seek to dismiss it as a thinly veiled attempt to smuggle religion into science, but they commit a fallacy when they attack their opponents' motives rather than their arguments. The second argument is the complaint that ID is not genuine science. Koperski skillfully skewers both of these.

The critics, however, are on firmer ground when they point to the the lack of a well-developed research plan for ID. The second "good" argument against ID is that it is too radical. This latter argument is quite provocative, and it will be interesting to see how ID theorists respond to it.

Koperski's paper is a little long and probably not appropriate for the casual reader, but if you've done some thinking about this controversy and are interested in the arguments, it's worth a look.