Archive for the 'Religion' category

PZ Myers, Bill Donohue, Crackers, the Eucharist, and Right and Wrong

Jul 12 2008 Published by under Religion

Over the last couple of days, I've considered posting something on the controversy that's been sparked by PZ Myers' comments about the eucharist, and the reaction of Bill Donohue and the Catholic League to those comments. I've been putting it off because it's not an easy post for me to write. The entire incident has suffered from a lack of heroes. Instead, it's been a case where someone has behaved badly, but someone else has behaved worse.

I've interacted with Paul Myers on various internet forums for at least a decade now. In that time, he's done many things that I respect, and a few that I greatly admire. His recent post offering to publicly desecrate the Eucharist if someone would be so kind as to send him some does not fall into either of those categories.

To be fair to Paul, it's not like he pulled that idea out of the blue. A college student in Florida smuggled a consecrated host out of a Catholic Mass at the school. When this became widely known, a large number of Catholics became extremely outraged, and the student received a number of death threats. The college responded by supplying armed university police officers to stand guard - not over the student who received the death threats, but at Mass, to protect the eucharist from future kidnapping. The university police will apparently be receiving additional backup from a nun that the diocese is sending to help protect the Eucharist. (No, I'm not making any of that up.)

It's easy to understand why Paul - and, for that matter, any number of rational people - were outraged by that story. The kid removed something from the church that is, as far as anyone can tell from any measurements of any physical properties, a thin wafer made out of wheat. It's about the size of a quarter, costs a lot less, and has both the texture and flavor of glue. It is absolutely, completely, and utterly insane that there are people who are willing to threaten the life of another human being who failed to display proper reverence for an object that is, by all objective standards, nothing more than a Necco Wafer that's been subjected to a flavorectomy.

Regardless of what we believe about the Eucharist, we should all be able to get behind the idea that it's absolutely wrong to threaten to kill someone who treats it disrespectfuly.

Paul's offer to desecrate a host was made in that context. I'm not totally sure whether it was made in the spirit of standing in solidarity with the threatened student, to attempt to show the people making the threats that it won't work, to try to show everybody that there's no apparent difference between desecrating a host and mangling a cracker, some combination of the above, or for some reasons I've missed. To be honest, I don't think the reason really matters. Let's just say that it came in reaction to the absolutely outrageous behavior of others, and leave it at that.

Paul's response to the death threats was to turn around and threaten to do something that's guaranteed to offend (if not horrify) every Catholic who finds out about it, whether or not they were in the select group of pin-heads who wish they'd been born early enough to get an on-the-job anatomy lesson working for the Inquisition. He made it very clear that he has absolutely no respect for anyone who believes in something as irrational as transubstantiation, and absolutely no qualms about hurting their feelings.

Continue Reading »

54 responses so far

Summary Judgment in California Creationist Case: Behe Shoots, Scores, We Get Point (Part 3 of 3)

Given that today really is April 1st, let me start by saying that although Behe is a fool, this post isn't a joke. Everything you're about to read is real. This is the third part of my post on the summary judgment decision in the California Creationist Case. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.

It would seem that Mike Behe has, once again, managed to shoot an own goal in the courtroom. The last time that he was an expert witness, during the Dover case, the judge quoted extensively from Behe's testimony, but not in a way that he particularly liked. Ultimately, it seems that he scored more points for his opponents than he did for his friends. He's also an expert witness in the California Creationism Case, and he seems to have once again managed to put the ball right through the wrong goal.

Behe's contribution to the pro-science side of the case appears on page 40 of the written order:

Continue Reading »

182 responses so far

Summary Judgment in the California Creationist Case: The Lawyers for the Creationists Argue Like Creationists (Part 2 of 3)

(This is Part 2 of a three part post on Friday's summary judgment ruling in the ACSI v. Stearns creationism lawsuit. Part 1 is here; Part 3 will be up later today.)

If you read Judge Otero's ruling on the summary judgment motions in the California Creationist Case, you'll see that he discovered something that most of us already know: if you're looking for dubious argument tactics, you'll almost always find them when you're reading things written by professional creationists. In the case of the California lawsuit, the Christian schools are being represented by the law firm of Wendell Bird. Bird is no stranger to creationism battles - he served as the general counsel for the young-earth creationist Institute of Creation Research, threw a wrench into Arkansas' efforts to defend it's pro-creationsim policies in the McLean v. Arkansas case, and represented Louisiana's interest in promoting religion during the Edwards v. Aguillard case. After so much time spent working on behalf of creationist groups, it probably shouldn't be surprising that Judge Otero spotted many of the same argument tactics in the Christian schools' legal filings that we see when we look at the day to day output of anti-evolution groups such as the Discovery Institute.

There are some real gems scattered through the ruling. I'm just going to hit on a few of the high points.

Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Summary Judgment in California Creationist Lawsuit: Bottom Line, and What's Next (Part 1 of 3)

On Friday, Judge James Otero of the Central District of California issued a ruling granting the University of California's request for partial summary judgment in the California Creationist Lawsuit. I've written about this case several times before now, but it's been a long time since the last update, so before I get into the details of the ruling, I'm going to quickly review the details of the case.

In 2005, a group of plaintiffs that includes the Association of Christian Schools International, Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murietta, and the parents of several students filed a lawsuit against the University of California. In their suit, they claimed that UC unfairly and unconstitutionally refused to accept a number of courses taught at Christian schools as meeting UC's admissions criteria. The courses in question covered a range of topics, including English, history, religion, and government, but I've mostly focused my attention on the biology courses that failed to make the grade, because that's the area that I know the most about.

One of the specific issues that the Christian Schools are challenging in their lawsuit is UC's decision to reject any course that uses either the A Bekka Books or the Bob Jones University Press biology textbooks as the primary text for the course. As I've said before, this decision makes perfect sense to me. Even the most cursory look at some of the things that these books claim is enough to show that the unfortunate students who are forced to use this text are being taught things that are totally incompatible with science. The Christian schools, it should go without saying, disagree with my assessment.

Continue Reading »

8 responses so far

Two Things that Don't Go Together: Michael Egnor and Intellectual Integrity

Mar 12 2008 Published by under Anti-Evolutionism, Moral Flexibility, Religion

Someone once pointed out that when a dog pisses on a fire hydrant, it's not committing an act of vandalism. It's just being a dog. It's possible to use that analogy to excuse a creationist who takes a quote wildly out of context, I suppose, but I don't think it's really appropriate. Creationists might indulge in quote mining with the same casual disregard for public decency as a male dog telling his neighbors that he's still around, but, unlike dogs, the creationists are presumably capable of self-control. We've simply grown blase about their propensity for twisting other people's words because they do it so often.

Still, I expected more from Michael Egnor. He's not some diploma mill hack, who really might not know any better. The man is a professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at SUNY Stony Brook, and is actually the vice chairman of neurosurgery. He's been in academia for some time, and presumably has some understanding of the importance of intellectual integrity. When he picks and chooses which words to quote to make it appear that someone has said something very different from what they meant, he has very clearly chosen to tell a lie. And that's just what he did when he quoted from one of my posts.

Here's what he wrote:

Zoology graduate student and Darwinist Mike Dunford at Panda's Thumb has replied to recent posts in which Dr. Jonathan Wells and I pointed out that Darwin's theory is irrelevant to medical research on antibiotic resistance, and that antibiotic resistance itself is irrelevant to the debate about intelligent design and Darwinism. Remarkably, Mr. Dunford, referring to a recent advance in research on antibiotic resistance, concedes both points. He writes:

The scientists worked in a lab. They artificially replicated a set of conditions (an antibiotic-rich environment) that occur in nature. Finally, they placed the bacteria into this environment - something that happens spontaneously outside the lab...We'll pretend that anything that happens in a lab must be artificial selection, and that it is totally and completely wrong to use the phrase "natural selection" when referring to these experiments.

Mr. Dunford is right. Selection that happens by design in a lab is artificial selection, not natural selection. This distinction is of fundamental importance in this debate. Why? Consider Mr. Dunford's next observation:

Now, here's what I actually wrote. The portions that Egnor skipped over are highlighted in boldface:

Continue Reading »

58 responses so far

Discovery Institute: Dishonest or Incompetent? I Report, You Decide.

Mar 06 2008 Published by under Religion, Religion in Schools

First, the Discovery Institute didn't seem to know about the anti-evolution bill introduced in Florida last week. Now, they don't seem to actually understand what the bill does. Both of these things are quite strange, considering that the Discovery Institute folks actually wrote all of the substantive parts of the bill.

Rob Crowther just devoted most of an article over at the Discovery Institute's Media Complaints Blog to scolding the media for their coverage of the Florida legislation. Apparently, most of the news coverage made the outrageous claim that the "Academic Freedom Act" would actually permit the teaching of "alternative theories" to evolution. Crowther is outraged, claiming that the bill does no such thing. He thinks that the various media outlets have "been fed some 'smelly crap'" by pro-evolution groups such as Florida Citizens for science. I think it's because the various media outlets have actually read the bill.

Continue Reading »

19 responses so far

Anti-Evolution Legislation Introduced in Florida

Mar 03 2008 Published by under Anti-Evolutionism, Religion

On Friday, Florida State Senator Ronda Storms introduced an anti-evolution bill to the legislature. She did so quietly, and without fanfare. No press release was issued, and so far the legislation has not received any attention in the press. It also doesn't seem to have attracted any attention from the Discovery Institute or any of the other major anti-evolution websites, either. That's actually a bit of a surprise, since the bill in question is remarkably similar to a "Model Academic Freedom Statute" that the Discovery Institute posted on a website that they (and a media company) set up to promote a movie.

This whole thing raises so many issues that it's hard to decide where to start. There's the Orwellian language of the act itself. There's the egregious misunderstanding of the concept of academic freedom that's contained in the bill. There's the remarkable similarity between the bill before the Florida legislature and the Discovery Institute's "model statute." There's the narrow focus of the law. There's the lack of concern shown for "academic freedom" as it relates to anything but teachers and students who want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that evolution's not a real, solid scientific concept. And that's just scratching the surface. There's just no way that I can address all of this in a single post. Fortunately, I'm confident that between the comments section for this post and whatever other bloggers may decide to write on this topic, most of the things I miss will be covered in short order.

Right now, I'm going to focus on the mockery that the circumstances surrounding this bill make of the Discovery Institute's frequent assertions that religious beliefs have absolutely nothing to do with this sort of thing. (Yes, I know it's hard to make a mockery of a mockery, but they've managed it. Again.)

Continue Reading »

29 responses so far

Yeah, could have seen that one coming.

Feb 11 2008 Published by under Public Perception of Science, Religion

When fellow ScienceBlogger Matt Nisbet announced that he had put a panel together to talk about "Communicating Science in a Religious America" at this weekend's AAAS conference, he was greeted with what I'll generously call widespread skepticism among many of the bloggers here (including me). Nisbet, you see, is a well-known opponent of what's sometimes referred to as the "New Atheism". His own talk will focus on the "New Atheism". And he included nobody on his panel who is actually a "New Atheist".

A little while ago, he posted a copy of a press release describing another one of the papers that's going to be presented at that panel by William and Mary anthropologist Barbara King. One of the things that's going to be covered in that talk is - wait for it - some of the "problems" caused by the "New Atheism":

Continue Reading »

18 responses so far

Cause, Effect, and Crying "Poor Me": Day 3 of the Luskin Thing.

Feb 06 2008 Published by under Anti-Evolutionism, Moral Flexibility, Religion

We're now into the third day of the brouhaha that was sparked by Casey Luskin's misuse of the "Blogging About Peer-Reviewed Research" icon. Casey posted a few responses to criticisms in the discussion thread over at the BPR3 blog, then packed his bags and went home because Dave Munger didn't delete all of the comments that had said bad things about Casey. It's pretty clear that Casey got what he was fishing for before he left, though: more stories about how poor Intelligent Design proponents are picked on by mean scientists.

They've been playing up that sort of story for a while now, and it's easy to understand why. Stories - even blatantly fictional ones - are a good way to make a point. We use stories to teach our children. More importantly, our parents used stories to teach us. We've been dealing with stories all our life, so we tend to respond when we're given a familiar story. In this case, they're giving us a variant of the "David and Goliath" story, and we all know who to root for when we hear that one, right?

Casey had to work really hard to get that story, but he's pretty sure he managed it:

(1) A large number of the people on this thread continue to oppose approving my request for registration, explicitly admitting that they simply don't want to allow ID proponents to be part of these discussions. If ID proponents aren't even allowed to "officially" blog about peer-reviewed research on the internet, who can say that their research would get a fair hearing from the actual peer-reviewers in the real world of science?

The italics were in the original, and Casey really must have meant it, because he used the same phrase again later on in the comment, replacing the italics with boldface. As arguments go, that one is pretty typical. It sounds nice and reasonable and bears only the faintest resemblance to anything that actually happened.

Continue Reading »

15 responses so far

Unable to Lead, but Unwilling to Follow, James Dobson Promises to Get Out of the Way.

It looks like there's definitely going to be a little bit of good political news for everyone tonight - a statement released by leading theocon James Dobson:

Continue Reading »

7 responses so far

« Newer posts Older posts »