Tennessee House Bill 368

The Tennessee House of Representatives just passed a bill that opens a door to attack the accurate teaching of evolution and any other scientific theories.  Essentially the text reads that it will be against the law to:

prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

As I understand it, this would allow any teacher at any time to argue against any scientific theory that they don’t agree with.  Anything will go as long as they don’t explicitly say that their motivation is based on a “religious or non-religious doctrine.”  Flat-earthers, HIV-deniers, and intelligent design proponents will be fair game in Tennessee schools.

The bill is simply ridiculous in its motives.  One would presume that the bill’s sponsor believes that he is furthering  the true ideas a and wants of scientists.  Well not exactly:

"Evolution may not be controversial in the scientific community, but may be in our greater community," bill sponsor Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said.

Here is where the problem lies.  The fundamentals of history should be decided by historians, math decided by mathematicians, and science by scientists.  As long as the information is accurate,  it should be taught truthfully.  As Richard Feynman said: “Reality must take precedence over public relations.”  This bill is a step backwards in the progress of humanity. 

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Today is the 5th Anniversary of Kitzmiller Trial

On December 20th, 2005, Judge John E. Jones III, ruled that it was unconstitutional to read a statement that discredits evolutionary theory and barred the teaching of intelligent design there.  This was the first, but probably not last, trial that involved the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.

Its hard to believe that it has only been 5 years since the details and motives of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement were brought out to the public in a public trial.  We learned from staunch ID supporter Michael Behe that there are no peer reviewed published articles supporting ID.  We learned how the Discovery Institute’s”wedge document” essentially points to the idea that ID was brought up as a way to replace the scientific method with “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions”  We also saw how the book in question, Of Pandas and People,  had earlier versions where they simply replaced the word “creation” with “intelligent design.”  Of course there was more damming evidence against the ID proponents in the trial, but these three facts alone provide sufficient evidence that intelligent design is not science and should never be taught in the classroom.

NSF creates center at MSU to study evolution in action

Great news!  Michigan State University has been awarded $25 million by the NSF to create a Science and Technology center to study evolution in action. This center will utilize resources from many other universities and involve 30 researchers. I am really glad to see that the NSF is willing to spend its money on such an important issue.

The focus of the center is on evolution in action, an area of evolutionary biology that has not really been addressed in any large scale effort. Many of the missing details in evolution will be answered at this center. Having answers to these questions will both further our understanding of life and how it changes over time, but it will also address criticisms brought by people who doubt the theory. Objections by evolution deniers have been falling one by one, and this will hopefully continue that trend.

The center will perform experiments on both live organisms and virtual organisms. This approach has several benefits and has been used in other areas of biology, especially neuroscience. Experiments performed by virtual organisms (simulations) can then be tested on live organisms to confirm their predictive strength. Likewise, experiments can be performed on live organisms and then be tested against virtual organisms.

All and all, I think spending the money on this subject is valid. Many of the ideas learned from these experiments will have dual or multiuse applications. Not only will we learn about biology, but also about evolutionary actions of diseases, engineered projects, geologic phenomenon, etc.

Intelligent Design more focused on politics than science?

It has been awhile since I have delved into the ideas coming out of the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News and Views blog.  When I visited it last night, I was shocked bemused at how much the focus of the blog was on global warming.  I decided to count how many articles were focused on global warming (which has absolutely nothing to do with evolution).  I came up with this little chart of the blog’s topics:

ENVs post topics from 12/9/2009

The chart is very telling on the state of affairs of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement.   First, there is not one single post showing any evidence for ID.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it is always nice to point out.  Second, most of the posts were focused on something that is not even related to evolution or ID: global warming.  Together with the prevalence of the immorality of believing in evolution, I think it is clear that the ID movement is more political / philosophical than it is focused on science and the determination of reality.  Just another reason why the whole idea is pseudoscience.

Vote for the best evolution video

The Discover website has a poll up where they want you to vote for the best video that explains evolution in 2 minutes or less. Some of them are pretty good. Go take a look.

Vote here.

Intelligent Design proponents are not stupid

In talking with some of my colleagues about intelligent design (ID) it has become clear to me that there are some misconceptions about ID.  These misconceptions are not limited to science professionals as these ideas can also be seen when viewing message boards, reading comment sections, or anywhere else the subject arises.

The general consensus seems to be that ID proponents are just not very smart.  Although I do think this is true for some “IDers,” it is not a prerequisite for belief in the pseudoscience.  Just look at the Discovery Institute.  Many of the “fellows” there have PhDs or have achieved other higher levels of education.  Perhaps the most telling is how cogent their arguments appear to be.  I honestly think it takes some kind of weird intelligence to be able to defend a evidence-less theory against the onslaught  of ever increasing evidence for evolution.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying ID proponents are geniuses.  I am just saying stupidity is not the source of their belief in ID.  So, what are the sources?  Well, Christian fundamentalism is an obvious one.  These people are going to twist the world around them to their preconceived notion of the universe no matter what evidence is available.

Another source could be a strong reliance on the logical fallacy of personal incongruity (personal disbelief).  This logical fallacy basically says that just because someone has a hard time believing something does not mean it is not true.  People can not accept that we are evolutionarily related to monkeys.  Some people can’t believe that the diversity of life happened on its own.  They say “look how complicated life is. It had to be designed.” The feeling is so strong that they abandon reason and acceptable evidence for pseudoscience.

Willful ignorance is undoubtedly another reason that otherwise intelligent people believe in intelligent design.  Some people just don’t really care about the subject, so they will just go along with what there preacher or friend believes.  Other people are not willing to find out the truth for the fear that it will shatter their world view.

Whatever the reason, simply insulting their intelligence is not going to be an effective way to convince them of reality.  I didn’t write this post to defend ID proponents, I am just hoping that understanding where they are coming from will help during debates.

Signature in the Cell pre-review

Stephen Meyer has a new book out on Intelligent Design (ID) called Signature in the Cell. Although I have not read the book, I am going to offer a “pre-review” of the book based on what I know of it and Stephen Meyer. You can download an excerpt of the book here.

To sum up the argument of the book, at least in this excerpt, it is an argument from personal disbelief.  He looks at organisms and thinks “there is no way this happened on its own.  There must have been a designer!”  Meyer will surely make the same tired and evidence-less arguments of ID proponents:  Look how perfectly put together the cell is.  Evil Darwinists have been wrong before!

The title, Signature in the Cell, says a lot more than Meyer wants.  He uses the word “signature”  Doesn’t signature imply that there is some unmistakable sign we can observe?  However, none has been found yet.  Maybe this could lead to an ID hypothesis:

The designer would have left an unmistakable mark in cells that has no other function than to provide information about the designer

If such a hypothesis gets evidence to support it, then I think you have a lot of evolutionists onboard.  I will patiently await this evidence.  Currently unexplained phenomena are not evidence.

In the excerpt of the book, I take issue with some of the ideas that Meyer is conveying, but he does get one thing right:

the appearance of design in living things has been understood by most biologists to be an illusion—a powerfully suggestive illusion, but an illusion nonetheless. As Crick himself put it thirty-five years after he and Watson discerned the structure of DNA, biologists must “constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”

This sort of putting biases and preconceptions aside is part of biology and all of science.  One typical example is the personification (anthropomorphizing) of microbes or even chemical reactions.  Or what about relativity or even quantum mechanics?  Scientists have to constantly guard against human biases and heuristics in order to find out what is really going on .

This is exactly why science depends on testable hypotheses.  This is why experiments have to be reproduced.  This is exactly why there are statistics.  This is why scientists carry out “blind” experiments whenever possible.  When these things are ignored, science turns into pseudoscience.  Meyer using this weakness of human thinking as an argument for intelligent design is ridiculous.

Perhaps I will read the book and offer a real review in the future, but don’t hold your breath.   Until real evidence appears in high caliber peer-reviewed journals, ID should be thought of and treated like pseudoscience.