Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Is the Discovery Institute giving up it’s “we’re not creationists” BS?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 31, 2009

You and I know that Intelligent Design is in fact nothing but creationism re-branded for the 21st century. The Dover trial showed that unquestionably. But lately it seems that the Discovery Institute has been embracing the God wagon more openly. First they went and opened up their Faith and Evolution website. Now, William Dembski is advertising his new book titled “The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil Worldwhich hits stores soon. Now why would one of the most recognized faces of the Intelligent Design movement, which opposes every claim that they are creationists in disguise, write a book about God? You may think I’m reading too much into this, but I don’t think so. ID is creationism and the actions of the Discovery Institute as of late seem to betray that simple truth. Are IDers moving away from their vehement denial of their creationist nature? Are they finally being honest and accepting that their movement is not about academic freedom, it is not about teaching the controversy, it is not about science, but it is about introducing their specific religion to our school system? Or are they up to new tricks? Is this the natural progression of their Wedge Strategy? Only time will tell.

Christians battle each other over evolution

Posted in News, Skepdude by Skepdude on May 28, 2009


The Discovery Institute – the Seattle-based headquarters of the intelligent design movement – has just launched a new website, Faith and Evolution, which asks, can one be a Christian and accept evolution? The answer, as far as the Discovery Institute is concerned, is a resounding: No.

The new website appears to be a response to the recent launch of the BioLogos Foundation, the brainchild of geneticist Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and rumoured Obama appointee-to-be for head of the National Institutes of Health. Along with “a team of scientists who believe in God” and some cash from the Templeton Foundation, Collins, an evangelical Christian who is also a staunch proponent of evolution, is on a crusade to convince believers that faith and science need not be at odds. He is promoting “theistic evolution” – the belief that God (the prayer-listening, proactive, personal God of Christianity) chose to create life by way of evolution.

It sounds like a nice idea, but to my mind any time you try to reconcile science and religion by rejecting Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of “non-overlapping magisteria” and instead try shoehorning them into a single worldview, something suffers. My concern is that science will take the hit – and Collins’s speculative arguments about divine intervention via quantum uncertainty seem dangerously poised for the punch. The Discovery Institute’s concern, on the other hand, is that Christianity will take the hit. “For Christians,” they write on their website, “mainstream theistic evolution raises challenges to traditional doctrines about God’s providence, the Fall and the detectability of God’s design in nature.” For them, reconciling evolution and religious faith is simply a hopeless endeavour.

I think it’s interesting that the Discovery Institute – which has long argued that intelligent design qualifies as science – seems to have given up the game and acknowledged that their concerns are religious after all. It’s equally interesting that the catalyst doesn’t seem to be someone like Richard Dawkins pushing atheism, but Francis Collins pushing Christianity. Perhaps the Discovery folks realise that Dawkins’s followers are never going to be swayed by intelligent design; Collins, however, might very well cut into their target audience of scientifically-curious evangelicals.


Skepdude says: I see your true colors, coming through…Discovery Institute you’re a joke. You claim your Intelligent Designer is not the Christian God, that your ID theory is science and yet you go and do this, which proves quite irrecovably to anyone with a couple of firing neurons that you’re a bunch of hypocrites with a religious, anti-scientific agenda!

Michael Egnor tries again

Posted in Freespace by Skepdude on April 14, 2009

“Listen to the fool’s reproach! It is a kingly title!”—William Blake

Dr. Egnor has posted a response to <=”to<“>my comments about his blog posts. He basically makes three points: first, he accuses me of misrepresenting him by calling him a creationist; second, he claims that it is constitutional for creationists to teach religion in government schools; third, he claims I am part of a conspiracy to preach atheism to schoolkids…or something. Let’s see how much of this holds up.

He begins by ensuring us that although he believes in magic and mysticism, he isn’t exactly a young earth creationist. No, he’s an old earth creationist instead. He “respect[s] young earth creationists” and “strongly support[s] their right to participate fully in public discourse, but [he] do[es] not share some of their scientific viewpoints.” I believe that’s exactly what I said to begin with….  But obviously this is irrelevant. The point is, Egnor believes that government-funded, government-operated schools should teach other people’s children that God created life.

My point was that the phrase “participate fully in public discourse” can mean a lot of different things. It can mean the individual right of creationists like Egnor to state their beliefs in public—a right guaranteed to all individuals by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Or it can mean the purported “right” of elected officials to abuse their authority by using the government to endorse their religious views as true and to put that message into government-run schools, funded with taxpayer dollars—something that is absolutely prohibited by the Constitution of the United States. It is the latter that Dr. Egnor endorsed, and endorses again in his most recent post.

The Constitution (which Dr. Egnor can read here for free) forbids the government from anything like an establishment of religion. What that means is, it is illegal for the government to set forth a religious viewpoint as being true. To say that life was created and designed by a divine Designer is a religious belief. It is therefore unconstitutional to teach it in a government run classroom on the taxpayer’s dime to other people’s children.

The Constitution does not bar the government from making other kinds of statements—that is, it does not bar the government from making statements of fact that are supported by science. (It doesn’t even bar the government from teaching untrue facts; Egnor claims that evolution can “only” be taught “in a constitutional manner” if its “weaknesses” are taught—but in fact, the Constitution places very few limits on what government may teach in schools, and that is not one of them.) If those facts turn out to be inconsistent with Dr. Egnor’s religious views—well, that’s just too bad.

As I explained in my article, Reason And Common Ground, the government is perfectly free to teach children that the seasons are caused by the tilt of the earth’s axis, even though that conflicts with the views of Greek polytheists who think the seasons are caused by Persephone’s annual visits to her husband Hades. What the government may not do is say that the myth of Persephone is true or that it is false. It certainly can say that there is no evidence to support it, or that all the evidence points in the direction of the theory of the earth’s tilt on its axis. In exactly the same way, the state may teach students evolution, even though it conflicts with some people’s religious views.

Think what it would mean if the opposite were true: if every person claiming a mystical revelation or an insight into magical processes could wield a heckler’s veto over every expressive act by government. Government could not set up a fire department, because people would complain that fires are caused by Thor’s lightning. Government could not promote sanitation, because it might offend those who believe diseases are God’s punishment for sin. Government could not try to educate the public about violence against women, because it might offend fundamentalist Muslims. There is good reason that the Constitution allows—indeed, expects—the government to teach non-religious concepts and even concepts that are contrary to some people’s religious views, while forbidding it from making religious statements.


Thanks a lot asshole!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 11, 2009

Whoever did this is a moron and a coward and I hope they catch him and make an example out of him/her. PZ is right:

we do not threaten to silence or cause harm to the clowns of creationism. Laugh at them, dissect their arguments, explain that they are damaging education in this country…but you draw the line at intimidation and threats of personal damage. Got it?

Just goes to show that there are idiots on both sides of the issue, the right side (us) and the wrong side (DI) and no one has a monopoly on good manners and rationality(Except for PZ and me of course,..well maybe not exactly the good manners!!!!).

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on March 6, 2009

Do they mention that the Discovery Institute has had its ass handed to it repeatedly for lacking the scientific gravitas of a vinegar and baking soda volcano exhibit at the 3rd grade science fair?

When the Vatican calls you unscientific, you should start considering suicide.

Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes

Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on October 23, 2008

The New Scientist has recently discovered what readers of this blog have known for a while – that the denial of materialist neuroscience is the “new creationism.”  In fact I have written extensively over the past year about the embrace by the Discovery Institute (an intelligent design group) of cartesian dualism, the notion that the mind is a different substance from the brain. The primary proponent of this argument for the DI (and a frequent foil of my blog entries) is Michael Egnor, a creationist neurosurgeon. But the New Scientist article correctly points out that this is actually part of a larger movement and a larger strategy.

The Wedge Strategy

This current attack on neuroscience has the same underlying roots as the ID attack on evolution – the real enemy for ID proponents is materialism. The infamous Wedge document makes this clear in its opening paragraphs:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.


Congratulations to Randy Moore

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on October 15, 2008

My colleague at the Twin Cities branch campus of the University of Minnesota, Randy Moore, has won an award from the Discovery Institute: The Award for Most Dogmatic Indoctrinator in an Evolutionary Biology Course. Congratulations to Randy! He won it for this paragraph:

The evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming and comes from diverse disciplines, such as molecular biology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, ethology, and biochemistry. There is no controversy among biologists about whether evolution occurs, nor are there science-based alternative theories. Evolution is a unifying theme in biology; teaching it as such is the best way to show students what biology is about and how they can use evolution as a tool to understand our world. [Evolution] is as important an idea as there is in science – it is a great gift to give to students.

The Discovery Institute claims there are at least four mistakes in that paragraph. Their summary of the “errors” is hilarious, and shows how delusional those guys are.


You know you must be doing something right…

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on September 15, 2008


… When both the Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research get on your case! These two outlets of religious-centered non-thinking vehemently attacked my recent post on the inanity of choosing Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate — which focused on her positions on teaching (she supports “equal time”) and censorship (she has attempted to remove “offensive” books from a public library, going so far as threatening a librarian with being fired).

The Discovery Institute blog, Uncommon Descent (how cute!) called me “a worrisome character” because I dared to suggest that education is not about having kids debate “the two sides” of every issue (to begin with, because there often are more than two sides, and straightjacketing the discussion in that way commits the logical fallacy of contrived dualism). Dave Scot, at Uncommon Descent picked up on an analogy I gave about the silliness of the “two views” doctrine and commented: “Massimo doubts that the science establishment can present the evidence for a round earth, like live satellite images, well enough to let children use critical thinking skills to decide if the scientists have made a compelling case.” Ah, so indirect observation now is enough to convince children (or anyone) of a scientific notion, is it? Well, we can observe evolution and natural selection happening under (indeed, inside, in the case of the influenza virus) our very noses, but still 50% of Americans refuse to accept it. Fossils are readily observable by anyone who cares doing so, but of course they are dismissed as the handiwork of the devil. Surely Mr. Scot is aware that some (“adult”) Americans reject images “allegedly” generated by space missions (like the ones to the Moon) as fabrications by a conspiracy-prone government, so why on earth would one trust satellite photos of the round earth? That’s the beauty of faith-based worldviews: they are impervious to mere facts.

Even more amusing is Christine Dao’s commentary on the ICR’s web site, whose title is “Palin slammed for supporting open debate” (if there is anything we have learned recently about Sarah Palin is that she is a vindictive politician who cannot bear dissent, let alone encourage open debate). Ms. Dao deserves to be quoted extensively to be appreciated: “Logic and evaluating evidence are tools used to analyze the world around us, and so far that same logic and evaluation has led many scientists and others to believe that the evidence speaks of a Creator God rather than random chance and natural selection.” Oh really? Which scientists would those be? The faculty of the ICR, who has to swear allegiance to a literalist interpretation of the Bible to be kept in employment? I don’t recall being forced to sign a document committing me to Darwinism when I was hired at Stony Brook University. Maybe it was in the small print.

Again, Dao: “Limiting how the evidence can be interpreted puts educators in the interesting position of not teaching students, but instead conditioning them to recite the ‘correct’ answers without a second thought to other possible explanations.” Except that I advocate the teaching of critical thinking skills, so that students can in fact inoculate themselves — of their own accord — against the nonsense propagandized by the Discovery Institute and the ICR. But critical thinking takes time to learn, you don’t just serve up two options without tools for assessment and say “here, you decide.”

More from Dao: “Individuals such as Pigiliucci [sic] have taken their cue from Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Meyers, and other evolutionary supporters in their active condemnation and ridicule of anyone who doesn’t agree with their own platforms.” First of all, if anyone thinks I have much agreement with Richard Dawkins they have not been paying attention (as for P.Z., I have discovered him many years after I started writing about these things, back in 1997). Now, the charge of ridicule is one that needs to be carefully assessed, however. I take the position that most people who believe in creationism are victims of blind religious propaganda and of the failure of our education system (though the roots of creationism are of course much more complex than just that). They, therefore, deserve consideration and help (in the form of good science education). Demagogues like Scot and Dao, on the other hand, are willfully engaging in a concerted effort to undermine the use of reason in our society, an attitude that among many other things has given us eight disastrous years under a “commander in chief” who belittles expert advice while thinking with his gut (which apparently advised him to support “equal teaching”). This same anti-intellectualism may well give us several more years of an even worse version of the same in Sarah Palin. It is people like Scot and Dao, and a fortiori their sponsoring organizations, that deserve to have all the ridicule that thinking people can amass heaped on them.


Afternoon Delight With The Discovery Institute – #4

Posted in Enemy Combatant by Skepdude on September 9, 2008

When Kate expressed her interest in the legalities of teaching ID, Casey’s beady eyes lit up as I imagine they might were he presented with proof of a creator. Like a toddler having just managed to make poopy in the toilet for the first time, he proudly exclaimed that he was a lawyer, and could really, really, honestly for reals tell us anything we wanted to know about the legal issues.

But first, since we were standing here, wouldn’t we like some handouts to take home with us? Some teaching guides, some books he just happened to co-author, maybe a pamphlet or six? Wouldn’t we like copies of several different versions of a thing called “Icons of Evolution”?

Would we EVER.


Afternoon Delight With The Discovery Institute – #2

Posted in Enemy Combatant by Skepdude on September 2, 2008

**When we last left our heroes, they were half in the bag and thrilled to find that there was in fact a device to communicate with the life forms inside the Discovery Institute. **

Having discovered that there was an intercom, we did the logical thing and used it to page whoever might be listening in the building. A rather suspicious sounding young man answered, and Kate explained to him, in an awful parody of her usual soft southern accent, that she was here for a tour. She kept explaining, as the voice in the box didn’t seem inclined to let us in. Sensing that we might be turned away at the door without even a glimpse inside, I jumped in, and explained that my friend was a science teacher from Mississippi, who was passionate about intelligent design, and really had a lot of respect for the work the fine folks there at the Discovery Institute do every day.

The man in the box said he’d be right down.