Barry Arrington bans scientists, keeps UD safe for homeschoolers

Like other vocal exponents (Casey Luskin and founding patriarch Phillip Johnson) of Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC), Barry Arrington is a lawyer with no significant background in any of the natural sciences.  IDC is the most recent incarnation of “scientific creationism” and cannot compete in the scientific marketplace of ideas with evolution or any other scientific theories, because it represents the dogmatic thought pattern of the Middle Ages.  Starting with conclusions (Goddidit; I was never a monkey), IDCers ignore vast volumes of evidence from the natural world to cherry pick examples (contrived or  quotemined from the literature) that they believe aid them in their quest to confuse the nonscientific public into thinking that evolution is NOT the massively well supported collection of facts and logical inferences that it has become.

Until recently Uncommon Descent has served as the best known IDC group blog open to (registered) public comment.  Moderator Barry Arrington has ceased the policy of allowing comment from scientists (with their ugly facts and opposing views) under the pretense of clearing out “irrational” commentary.  Based on recent posts however, it would seem that the real reason is to avoid the rightful ridicule they should be getting right now for linking to embarrassingly bad posts written by creationist nonscientists at Christian homeschooling sites.

“Thursdayites” is a recent UD post by jonnyb that points to “Macroevolution, Good Science, and Redeeming Mathematics” by Kate Deddens  a featured article on the Christian homeschool site “Classical Conversations.”  Why some parents cannot see that you do your children no favors when you blind them to the realities of nature is beyond comprehension.  I’m not shelling out $18.99 for a stack of cards with sciencey nonsense on them, so I’ll just have to guess at what the Classical  Conversations’ Acts and Facts Bio/Geo cards happen to lie about or misunderstand.  But I digress, on to the article at hand (I’ll be mercifully brief, so that both of you reading this can get on to better things).

Deddens’ article is another rehash the old “macroevolution isn’t proven” canard.  After a throwaway G.K. Chesterton quote, she selects her target: the Cambrian explosion.  As paleontologist Don Prothero noted in Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, the Cambrian explosion is probably the aspect of natural history that creationists understand least and distort most.  And no wonder, they haven’t read anything about it since 1986.  Deddens calls as her only witness on the Cambrian explosion noted non-paleontologist Richard Dawkins, more specifically his 1986 (not 1996 as reported by Deddens) trade book, The Blind Watchmaker.  Not exactly the go-to source for an area of active research in which our knowledge has advanced greatly in 25 years.  About the Burgess Shale, Dawkins wrote and Deddens quotes: “It is as though they [fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists.”

Creationists can take no solace from the Cambrian Explosion today.  Increased knowledge of the fossil record shows great support for macroevolution (as if there were any doubt).  The surviving Linnean phyla of animals do not appear at once, but across a vast 250 million year long span from the Cryogenian (Porifera) to the late Cambrian (Bryozoa).  The Early Cambrian “explosion” phase is an adaptive radiation that grew steadily over 20+ million years.  Important papers include Maloof et al. 2010, and Peterson et al. 2008.

From there Deddens descends into the usual bad arguments. Behe’s  irreducible complexity is revisited.  Truly irreducible complexity only occurs at the quark/lepton level; what Behe meant is interlocking complexity, which is explained by scaffolding, exaptation, recombination of modules, drift, and loss through mutation of redundant parts.

Genetics (which of course is clinching evidence for macroevolution) is the next stop.  We are told mutations are destroyers of genetic information (which is of course only true for deletions), and according to Deddens gene duplications and insertions are “not seen to happen.”

The lack of transitional fossils is bemoaned, this time quoting another non-paleontologist, Steve Jones.  First, it should be noted (and Gould stated) that the lack of transitional forms in the punctuated equilibria model is only between species, not higher groups.  Secondly, gaps between species are a self-fulfilling prophecy, because boundaries between species in the fossil record are erected based on these morphological gaps.  If there’s no gap, then morphologic change is assessed as intraspecific variation.

There’s no point in further pummeling a home-schooling mom’s contribution to miseducation, but this is the sort of high quality commentary that the intelligent design “theorists” deem worthy of a link.  The religious motivations of the ID creationist movement are never buried very deep.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thomas Jefferson on education, religion, and more

With the situation for public educators in Wisconsin and beyond looking so grim, I had to collect a few quotes from Thomas Jefferson for the sake of sanity .   If TJ were alive today, certainly “radio talk show hosts” would have certainly been included in the first quote below.

The tax which will be paid for the purpose of education is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.

In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty.

The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.

Too old to plant trees for my own gratification, I shall do it for my posterity.

I hope we shall take warning from the example of England and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

The liberty of speaking and writing guards our other liberties.

Liberty is the great parent of science and of virtue; and a nation will be great in both always in proportion as it is free.

We discover in the gospels, a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstition, fanaticism and fabrication.

They (preachers) dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live.

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.

Power is not alluring to pure minds.

Honesty, disinterestedness and good nature are indispensable to procure the esteem and confidence of those with whom we live, and on whose esteem our happiness depends.

If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is, that we should have nothing to do with conquest.

There is…an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents…. The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provisions should be made to prevent its ascendancy.

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.

It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquillity and occupation which give happiness.

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.

Men are disposed to live honestly, if the means of doing so are open to them.

Good humor is one of the preservatives of our peace and tranquility.

Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it.

Religions are all alike — founded upon fables and mythologies.

For if one link in nature’s chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish piecemeal.

I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury. On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens.

Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.

Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Casey Luskin: heterochrony is evidence against common descent

If you are reading this, and know what heterochrony means, you are probably wondering how on Earth he came to that conclusion.   On the other hand, if you have read anything by Luskin before, you know anything is possible.  If you don’t know what heterochrony means, go to your local college library and have a look at Ontogeny and Phylogeny by Stephen Jay Gould.  Or be lazy and google it.  DI lawyer/blogger/nightwatchman Casey Luskin is probably unfamiliar with heterochrony since he fails to use the word is discussing a topic where it would be all but unavoidable, but lack of relevant knowledge never stopped him before.  Read on as our intrepid litigator sets out to protect all that is holy from the likes of Ken Miller by smiting him with a South American oppossum neonate.  It is interesting that the DI’s loudest voice in the blogosphere is a lawyer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Diogenes gets it right

A while back I stumbled across the blog of a biologist writing under the blogonym of Diogenes.  Last spring he posted a series of articles that hit the core of one of the major problems this country faces: subversion of the good of our people and environment to the will of the extremists that make up the Republican party in the 21st century.  As Steven Pinker noted in The Blank Slate, the GOP is a coalition of seemingly strange bedfellows: “the board of directors and the revival tent”(if memory serves).  At times it would seem the Romneys and Huckabees would have little in common.  Dubya was the intersection and thus enjoyed huge popularity within the party despite his many flaws and disregard for the truth and the Constitutional rights of Americans.  It helps to be born on third base.  And to have the Democratics field stiffs in 2000 and ’04.  In every election that I can remember, going back to ’76, the more charismatic candidate (in my opinion, of course, based on how they come across on camera) has won, and Dubya (who had almost none) was extremely lucky to go against his charismatic equal in ’00 (a draw) and the mannequin that is John Kerry in ’04.  That goes double for Bush the elder in ’88.

But I digress.  In “Your Science Makes Jesus Cry: Right Wingers and the Campaign Against ‘Materialism'” and the follow-up “What is the Fundamentalist War Against ‘Materialism’ Really About?” Diogenes shows how how tight the link between the megalocapitalists and Christian Taliban really is.  Go read them now and report back.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Anaxyrus terrestris now online

Welcome to Blog of Anaxyrus terrestris. I have a job and a family that conspire to keep me very busy, so I don’t know how frequent posts will be.  I am a college professor in the natural sciences living in Florida, USA.  Like most of my department and much of the region, I am a transplant from the Great Frozen North.  As I write this in mid-December, it’s a good time to be down here.

My primary interests are the natural world and science education.  It is an uphill battle, to say the least, educating students about the world as it really is and the nature of the scientific endeavor when you see them for a total of 37.5 hours during a semester (assuming perfect attendance, with 5 of those hours spent taking tests) and you’re fighting the tsunami of misinformation that our culture extrudes.  But there are some really good students out there.  Hope springs eternal, and I am not convinced that a dystopian future is inevitable.  Thank you for reading.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment