Monday, April 09, 2007

Humes lecture review

Warning: Seriously lengthy post ahead...

Humes opens with the query as to why there are those who question Darwin’s theory of evolution:

“Why would a country who so loves it’s state of the art medical technology, it’s laser driven DVD players, its digital lifestyle, all the fruits of science and yet simultaneously reject an idea, a scientific theory that’s overwhelmingly supported by the scientific community? Why this disconnect?”

I’ve heard this type of statement in the past, and it has never made much sense to me. Of course science brings us many innovative and wonderful things that help us immensely, but this type of statement just seems unfair to me. It’s as if he’s putting forth the idea that everything worth living for is due to science.

The problem is that we can we include in that list weapons of mass destruction, the eugenics movement, or how about a scientist who believes in the necessity of killing off 90% of the population to save the environment?

Science is not “evil”, science is not “atheistic”, science is a tool of discovery. Science is always correcting itself as new information is discovered. Sometimes people approach science with bias, and sometimes science is even taught dogmatically. But, “science” isn’t the problem. The conflict stems from individual worldviews that scientists hold that may cause varying interpretations of the evidence that is being considered.

Evolution is a valid and undeniable fact, but the question is how far reaching are the mechanisms of evolution? How much of what is taught is actually “fact” and how much is merely an speculative extrapolation of the evidence?

In regard to the testimony in the Kitzmiller case, Humes admits that the testimony was at time “mind-numbing” or “sleep inducing”, but also claims that “most of it was utterly fascinating“. He talks about the “spectacular” fossils displays of a creature who is known as the walking whale - a whale like creature with legs, and also mentioned fossil images of feathered dinosaurs preserved in shale.

It always amazes me that some people are so awed by these “transitionals”. Here too we have varying interpretations of these creatures, yet mainstream science only allows consideration of one interpretation. Their interpretation may be absolutely correct, but then again, it may not. Our students are never allowed to consider views that conflict with these supposed whale transitionals, feathered dinosaurs, and other “transitionals“.

Humes certainly doesn’t mention the lengths that somes scientists have gone to in order to produce a “transitional”. Hoaxes abound, and recently even the famous paleontologist, Richard Leaky, has tampered with fossils to make them appear more like transitionals.

I also find it interesting that scientists are so enamored with these supposed “transitionals”, yet to this day we have no empirical evidence of macroevolutionary changes occurring in nature. Consider the evolutionary changes that would have had to occur in order to explain different body types and the evolution of vital organs.

Microevolution involves changes is size, shape, color, or minor genetic alterations. These type of changes are clearly supported with empirical evidence.

Yet, as Walt Brown so aptly puts it:

Macroevolution would be shown if the offspring of an animal or plant had a different and improved set of vital organs that could be inherited. Despite many breading experiments trying to cause such changes, this has never been observed. Micro changes are trivial in comparison to the long-sought macro changes.

For example. all species appear fully developed, not partially developed. They show design. There are no examples of half-developed feathers, eyes, skin, tubes (arteries, veins, intestines, etc.), or any of thousands of other vital organs. Tubes that are not 100% complete are a liability; so are partially developed organs and some body parts. For example, if a leg of a reptile were to evolve into a wing of a bird, it would become a bad leg long before it became a good wing. Can you see why macroevolution is ridiculous?

Then Humes goes on to talk about the issue that led to the Dover lawsuit. The entire lawsuit was in response to the Dover school board’s decision to have one *short* statement read to the science class before the lesson on evolution was introduced. Here is Humes description of how that decision was carried out...

“In the end, the presentation on ID had to be presented by the administrators in the school district who went classroom to classroom and made their little talk while the teachers stood out in the halls like the bad kids, along with the kids who risked being stigmatized by opting out of the presentation.”

“During presentations on ID, the administrators instructed the students not to ask questions. You can hear this information, but you may not ask questions about it. Can you imagine a school telling a student not to ask questions? It’s exactly the opposite of where we need to be in our schools.”

He ~again~ misleads his audience toward the end of his lecture by describing the same scenario in which administrators reading the paragraph on ID are supposedly not allowing questions because they have no answers for the students. He says: “Here we are going to have a lesson on intelligent design that we’re going to bring into the classroom, and we’re not going to let you ask questions about it”.

This accusation had me close to jumping out of my chair in protest. First of all, no one was going to teach a “lesson on intelligent design” in the Dover schools. So, there we have our first ~extremely~ misleading statement.

Second, the city of Dover was in the middle of a high profile lawsuit at the time, so the administrators reading the approved statement about ID to the class were probably walking on pins and needles. And, third, the teachers were standing out in the hall in protest waiting, like immature children, for the ID statement to be read to the class. Can you imagine if the administrators had opened up to questions and left the teachers in the halls waiting to teach their science class? Those teachers would have blown a gasket!

Here is the statement, which Humes never read to his audience, that was the cause of a million dollar + lawsuit.

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. At theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the Origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses up on preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

I kid you not. That meager statement is what led to the Kitzmiller case.

The science teachers refused to read this simple paragraph to the class. There was not a “presentation” or “lesson” on ID, and in that statement it mentions that if there are questions in regard to ID, the textbook Of Panda’s and People could be make available to the students. So, Humes statement that the students were not allowed to ask questions is misleading. They were told that further information was available if they were interested.

I don’t know of ~any~ ID proponents who would not allow questions to be asked about the design inference. In fact, ID supporters are very vocal about their want to debate and field questions on the topics surrounding this controversy. It’s the evolutionists who refuse to engage in publicized dialogue and debate.

Then Humes works on the religious fanaticism angle. He states that he went to a “mega-church in San Juan, CA” to learn more about ID. He claimed that this particular church was having a “huge event on Intelligent Design, creationism, and a critique of evolution”, and that “the speaker at this event played an ancillary role in the Dover case“. He then goes on to tell us that the speaker was Kent Hovind (Dr. Dino) and explains that there were “3,000 worshippers in this great meeting place cheering like superbowl fans”. He explains Hovind’s young earth creationist beliefs and the fact that he is now in jail for tax evasion. He stated that Hovind believes and preaches that evolution is a “conspiracy by scientists and Darwinists to silence the truth“. At the end of his Hovind spiel, he stated again that “That was my visit with Dr. Dino, the mega church, and the Intelligent Design presentation.”

I found it particularly deceiving to connect ID with Kent Hovind. Hovind has absolutely no connection with the Design community, but this angle did leave it’s affect on the laughing audience. This comparison between ID and a mega church gathering with Hovind, who has a tendency to emphasize exaggerated conspiracy theories, would be like considering what blogmeisters, PZ Myers (Pharyngula) or Pay Hayes (Red State Rabble) have to say about this controversy. Both Myers and Hayes are big on conspiracy theories as well. They feel that ID supporters are Christians who are “lying for Jesus” and who plan to establish a theocracy in which atheists are at risk of being burned at the stake. But, Humes mentions none of this in his “fair” and “unbiased” account.

It could very well be that the ID supporters on the Dover school board had listened to a Hovind lecture at one time or the other, but so what? That should have no impact on whether that particular paragraph was to be read to the class, nor should it have an affect on the question as to whether ID is science or not.

He also mentions that...“Insults were hurled about on the playground and in the school board meetings...who in your family is the monkey?” No doubt the “monkeys” were throwing insults as well. Due to my involvement in this debate, I’ve had Darwin supporters throughout the country hurl insults at me on a daily basis. Red State Rabble’s last insulting comments were tame compared to most, but he had a jolly time razing me about being the “church lady“ and the “wicked witch of the west”. Shoot, PZ’s even been know to display a “Blogs Against Theocracy” logo. Can anyone say paranoid conspiracy theorist? The man is a virtual preacher for fundamental atheists. Yet, for some reason, Humes doesn’t consider this in his “fair” and “unbiased” account.

Humes then mentions that “ironically this [Dover] was a place where people initially settled to get away from government mandated religion“, as if ID is a religion and ID proponents are trying to push religion on science classes. If you ever actually attend a lecture on ID, you’ll find that religion need not be discussed even in passing. Obviously, there are religious implications, but no more so than the religious implications of the Theory of Evolution. When discussing ID in a teaching environment, there is no need to bring up the topic of religion at all.

When he described ID, he stated that “proponents of this idea say it’s a valid scientific alternative to evolution”, though that statement is deceiving as well. ID proponents have no beef with evolution, though they don’t support the notion that evolutionary mechanisms can account for everything we observe in nature.

He does mention at one point that ID is not the same as teaching the biblical account of creation, yet he had already lumped the two together in his Hovind spiel. He seems to teeter back and forth on this idea and pulls the two together and throws in an evangelist here and there to add to the religious emphasize as much as possible. He states that “it (ID) does recycle some of the basic arguments against the ToE that have been sited by creationists in the past.” Again -- so what.

He states that although the ID proponents don’t mention who the designer is, there is more than a “wink and a nod” to this idea of not identifying the designer because everyone attracted to ID understands who we’re talking about when we say intelligent designer. He states that ID proponents say we can detect the evidence of design without naming the designer and who knows what that might be..“maybe it’s space aliens”. He acts as if he considers that ridiculous and notes that the space alien bit is “actually a line from proponents of ID - it’s not my characterization”. Personally, I don’t know what’s so weird about that statement. Scientists have been speculating and searching for life on other planets for an Seti. They also seem quite interested in the possibility that there may have been life of some sort on Mars. So, I don't understand what is so outrageous about this possibility.

But, Humes merely waves this option away as being a “very crafty” way in which to get around the wall of separation between church and state. This assumption irritates me to no end, because I support the separation of church and state with every fiber of my being for the very obvious reason that most people don’t want their kids subject to who knows what kind of “religious” thought might be thrust upon them during their school hours. If I wanted my kids to get religion in school, I’d have chosen a private school setting.

I think it’s a crying shame to think that we might have to stop scientific inquiry at a certain point and possibly never get to the truth regarding origins merely because some people are so opposed to anything that might remotely suggest that there is an ultimate designer. This has nothing to do with establishing a state religion - it’s a quest for truth and following the evidence wherever it may lead. But, we have guys like Humes and Judge Jones who are convinced that there is a great conspiracy to push a specific religion on our poor unsuspecting students, and yet they claim it’s guys like Hovind who have the overactive imagination.

Later in the talk, he resorts back to the religious angle yet again. He talks about another “ID event” he attended at a Christian university in Los Angeles. He stated that the proponents of ID were making their presentation and insisting that it was a scientific idea, not a religious one. “Yet“, he continues, “the audience of very enthusiastic supporters were shouting Amen and Alleluia throughout the presentation”. That got him some laughs, but I sat wondering who the lecturers were of this particular “ID event”. I’ve never attended an ID lecture or event where audience members shouted “Amen”. It would seem extremely out of place to attend a Behe lecture for example and have audience members shouting “Amen” or “Alleluia”.

Then he states that if the underlying “genesis” of ID is religious in nature, that doesn’t necessarily make it unacceptable for public school teaching. But, he tells us that Judge Jones found that ID is not a scientific idea, that it proposes at bottom a supernatural explanation for what we see in nature. He said it may be correct to do so, and perhaps ID proponents are correct, but it’s just not science and therefore not appropriate for science students. “It’s a religious idea”.

IMHO, it’s a ridiculous notion to consider ID in a religion class because it just isn’t religion. Attend one lecture on ID and you’ll find that a preacher certainly isn’t going to be qualified to teach the subject to his parishioners and it’s also out of place in a philosophy class other than perhaps a philosophy of science class.

Then he goes into his spiel about Judge Jones becoming the target of death threats and that he had to be placed under 24 hour guard by US Marshals shortly after the decision came out. A “fair and unbiased account” would have also mentioned the many accolades Jones received as well. He was featured in Time magazine as one of the most influential people of the year. He was also voted by Wired magazine as one of the “10 sexiest geeks”, and was asked to speak at graduation commencement speeches. It sounds like his life has been pretty exciting since the Dover trial.

A “fair and unbiased account” would also have provided the fact that Judge Jones borrowed 90.9% (or 5,458 words) of Judge Jones’ 6,004-word section on intelligent design as science from the ACLU’s proposed “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” which had been submitted to Judge Jones nearly a month before his ruling. A “fair and unbiased” account would also have included reference to the Discovery Institutes response to the trial in the book, Traipsing into Evolution”.

He alludes to the religious nature of ID throughout the presentation, but never mentions the anti-religious implications of the ToE. He makes the ID supporters out to be religious fanatics, but doesn’t mention that on any given day you can go on-line and find that the majority of scientists who are fanatical activists for the ToE are atheists or strong agnostics, and that they seem to bad mouth religion almost continuously.

He talks about the “two theories of evolution”, one being the “talk radio” version, which Humes says is “all made up”...“It’s merely critics of evolution defining a theory they don’t like but using misinformation to do so”. I’ve addressed Humes “talk radio” spiel in the past.

Then he touches on the Darwin/Hitler connection. Now, this is a subject that I’ve never been terribly interested in because Hitler was a madman, so there’s no telling what all was involved in shaping his worldview. But, at this point, Humes dismisses the possibility of any impact that the ToE might have had on Hitler whatsoever and provides this instead:

What I found is that in terms of writing that was influential on and provided a justification for Hitler’s final solution, was a pamphlet called “On the Jews and their lies” and this is really a horrendous diatribe which advocated persecution, concentration camps, denial of rights, and no mercy for jews who were described as “poisonous worms”. This pamphlet was not written by Charles Darwin, bit was written in 1542 by a german monk named Martin Luther. The same Martin Luther which launched the reformation and founded protestant Christianity. Now his writings were used as a justification for the Holocaust. Does that mean that we should condemn protestant Christianity as a result? Of course not. By the same token, even if it were true, and I found no evidence that it is, that something that Darwin wrote, was used as a justification for the final solution has not impact al all on the validity of evolution theory or of Darwin’s standing in the scientific community.

So, he blames the Holocaust on Martin Luther and finds “no evidence” that Darwin’s “dangerous idea” was ever considered by Hilter. While it is true that Luther unjustly condemns the jews in the pamphlet Humes mentioned, he is certainly not being honest in saying that he can find “no evidence” in regard to the connect between Hitler and evolution. A “fair and unbiased account” would have included mention of the eugenics movement that Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, instigated. There are also hundreds of books and articles which make the Darwin/Hitler connection, so maybe he should have tried google during his search.

Even today, Richard Dawkins says that the eugenic ideas that supported the Nazi’s thinking, including their notorious ‘racial hygiene’ and ‘breeding superhumans’ programs, “may not be all that bad“. In a letter to the editor of the Sunday Herald (Scotland), Dawkins wrote “I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler’s death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them”.

Then we have the usual diatribe about the fear that America is “falling behind” and may not be able to compete in the global marketplace. “We just don’t make as many engineers and scientists anymore in America. We import them, and now we aren’t even doing that. Why is that? Scientists are lying to us. Why be scientists? They aren’t honest, they’re atheists.”

Gag...I support ID, but I don’t think “scientists” are lying to us, and I don‘t think that atheists are dishonest either. I do think that the majority of the leaders from the “scientific community” who are enveloped in the fight to save Darwinism from the sinking ship are philosophical naturalists, but I don’t think they are lying. I think they truly believe what they say, and for some time now they have had control of what will and will not be considered science. Those who stand up to them often find their job security as risk (ie. Sternberg).

For all the complaining scientists do about ID, it still doesn’t negate the fact that ID is a scientific inference and it is testable, falsifiable, and offers predictions. ID is also responsible for pushing scientists to come up with answers for the “dead-end“ problems associated with the ToE. Michael Behe explains it as follows:

The theory of intelligent design promises to reinvigorate a field of science grown stale from a lack of viable solutions to dead-end problems. The intellectual competition created by the discovery of design will bring sharper analysis to the professional scientific literature and will require that assertions be backed by hard data. The theory will spark experimental approaches and new hypotheses that would otherwise be untried. A rigorous theory of intelligent design will be a useful tool for the advancement of science in an area that has been moribund for decades.

I missed quite a bit of the Q&A portion of the lecture due to my irritation level getting out of control, so I didn’t catch every question that was asked. I took a little break, then listened to the remaining questions from the back of the room. Humes brought up the much highlighted astrology canard in which, at the Dover trial, Behe is accused of stating that astrology is science. This is a complete farse as explained here, and at the Behe lecture I attended, Behe also corrected this fallacy that has been circulated:

Behe stated that at that point in the trial they were discussing the definition of science. He was asked if astrology was science and Behe said he stated astrology was considered science in the 13th and 14th century and that it in part led to astronomy. He was referring to historical times, not current times. But, the media only picked up his reference to astrology being acceptable in his definition of science.

Humes also writes Behe off as seeming almost incompetent on the witness stand, and mentions the “pile of books” placed in front of Behe which supposedly provided evidence for the evolution of the immune system. Again, pure rhetoric and spin. Behe responded to this circulating fallacy at his lecture as well.

From my review of the lecture:
As far as the “stack of books and articles” presented at the trial, Behe took it as bad courtroom theatre. He said that the “stack of books” we always see in pictures was staged because pictures were not allowed to be taken in the courtroom. So, obviously, this was an antic to try to make Behe look foolish.

Behe said that current studies do not provide evidence that the immune system has been explained by evolutionary mechanisms, so he was certain that this older material piled up in front of him did not contain anything that would explain it either. In the trial, he referenced the most current 2005 standard view of the immune system and he discussed this in depth with Ken Miller during the trial, but this information was not referenced in the Jones decision. He said the 2005 article on the immune system used words like “may have”, “appears to be”, “probably”, “might have”, etc. etc. It was speculative information, and if that were true in 2005, then obviously earlier papers wouldn’t have added anything more pertinent to the discussion. The papers in question do not address how random processes explain evolution of the immune system... they simply assume that they do.

Jones also made the statement in his decision that Behe said, “Those papers were not good enough”. In fact, Behe did not say this. Those are the words Eric Rothchild tried to put in his mouth while Behe was on the witness stand. Behe actually said that they were wonderful articles, that they were very interesting, but that they simply don’t address the question as he posed it. They address a different question.

Behe said that he seems to find himself following Ken Miller around correcting these issues that Ken keeps relaying to the public. Apparently, Richard Dawkins uses these same words (“those papers were not good enough”) in his latest book, The God Delusion. So, both Miller and Dawkins are relaying inaccurate information and the scientific community is eating it up and using it against him as well.