Evolution News

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It’s been a while since I touched bases with Evolution News, the Discovery Institute blog site. The Discovery Institute out of Seattle is the major organization in this country promoting creationism, in this case in the form of “Intelligent Design.” The Texas Freedom Network clued me in to this Evolution News story. Here’s what’s new:

Texas Textbook Story: New York Times Abandons Journalism for PR

John G. West September 30, 2013 12:42 AM

The New York Times used to be a serious newspaper. You know, the kind of media outlet where reporters actually bothered to interview people on different sides of an issue. But if its weekend story on the science textbook adoption process in Texas is any indication, such by-the-book journalism is now an endangered species at the Times.

Consider the article’s lopsided use of sources: Of the seven people interviewed in the story, four (57%) are ardent supporters of evolutionary theory and opponents of efforts to encourage critical analysis of evolution in textbooks. The other three offer neutral background information. None of the people interviewed defend critical analysis of evolution in textbooks. Not one. Zero.

That’s right, in an article purporting to examine a controversy over science textbooks, the only people interviewed by the reporter were those favoring one side of the controversy.

Concerning “the article’s lopsided use of sources,” I read through the Times article, attempting to figure out who was interviewed and who was not. I must confess, I do not come up with the same numbers the DI did. I count four people interviewed who are likely to favor evolution: Kathy Miller, Jessica Womack, Joshua Rosenau and Michael Singer.

Kathy Miller is a political operative who heads up the Texas Freedom Network PAC. She seems to be in favor of evolution, since the TFN is always defending the teaching of evolution in public schools and also works hard to prevent the introduction of creationism into the curriculum. Jessica Womack was interviewed, and actually did not express any favoritism toward evolution. She simply commented that her daughter in a Texas public school was once shamed by a teacher for professing belief in evolution. Josh Rosenau is definitely in favor of evolution. He is Programs and Policy Director for the National Center for Science Education and also writes the Thoughts from Kansas blog on Science Blogs. The NCSE is just the flip side of the Discovery Institute. About everything the DI is for the NCSE is against and vice versa. Actually, in his Times quote, Josh did not comment one way or another on the validity of evolution (or Intelligent Design). Michael Singer is a biology professor at the University of Texas, just a few blocks from the text book hearings. He is definitely in favor of evolution.

The DI has more to say:

Alas, lopsided sourcing far from the only problem with the article. Here are some others:

    • The story uses the slippery terms “creationist,” “creation science,” and “creationism” nine times without ever defining the terms.
    • The article likewise twice cites the term “intelligent design” without defining it (unless you count slamming intelligent design as creationism’s “cousin” as a definition).
    • The story insinuates that scientist Ide Trotter is a “creationist,” neglecting to inform readers that Trotter accepts the standard dating of the earth and the universe.
    • The article uses matter-of-fact language to describe partisan lobbying groups such as the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) and the National Center for Science Education, while smearing the opponents of TFN with the less-than-neutral epithet “far-right” (another term the Times fails to define). In reality, TFN is a left-wing lobbying group that opposes pro-life and other mainstream conservative groups.
    • The article avoids discussing for the most part the actual scientific criticisms being raised by critics of the textbooks and whether those criticisms might be valid.

These points are well taken. We need to examine them in turn:

The use of the terms “creationist” and such. These terms should be defined. In a scholarly work or in a well-researched blog post such as this one, these words would be defined. However, the Times article is only a filler piece for a newspaper, so a dictionary will have to suffice.

Same thing for Intelligent Design.

I have spoken to Ide Trotter on several occasions. He is a creationist. Are there any further questions?

The TFN defines itself in language such as “opposing the far right.” That should be descriptive enough. I do take issue with the opposes “other mainstream conservative groups” part. The TFN seems fairly even handed regarding mainstream conservative politics. Full disclosure: I contribute money to the TFN and to the NCSE.

Regarding the DI’s last point, it is best for them the Times article did not get into discussing the “criticisms being raised by critics of the textbooks and whether those criticisms might be valid.” I have examined some of these criticisms, and have found them to be abominable pieces of pseudo scientific commentary. During the text book hearings, creationist Ray Bohlin seemed to be embarrassed that his own criticisms were made public with his name attached, and he spoke before the Board of Education to complain about the disclosure.

Agitating for evolution in front of the William B. Travis Office Building on Congress Avenue in Austin

Say what I will about the Evolution News blog, it really is a fun read. I need to remember to keep coming back to it whenever there’s a slow blogging day. Most likely I will be able to count on the TFN to remind me from time to time.


Now I Remember

Offical government photo

Monday, it’s a slow day for me. I had to drag through the post about Mike Huckabee’s weird video. Then I had enough time to head out of the house to make a video of the school bus not stopping at the stop sign (it almost did). Back home, refilled the hummingbird feeders, made myself a huge glass of lemonade then settled back on the couch upstairs and caught the news while munching some peanuts.

Wow! The government is going to shut down. In seven hours. I thought we had until midnight. Then I realized, the government is in Washington, DC, and that’s in the Eastern Time Zone. They’re going to shut the government down an hour earlier just because they’re further east. I was hoping they would shut down in stages as midnight rolled across the time zones. But, no. They’re going to do it all at once just as soon as pumpkin time hits the White House.

Then they announced the president was going to speak. At 4 p.m. Readers, you know I will believe that when I see it. When was the last time I ever saw this president give a speech on time. Four p.m. (CDT)? How about 4:30?

No, came 4:00 CDT, and there he stepped up to the podium. He came to talk about the shutdown and how it was all the Republicans’ fault. Well, not all the Republicans. Just those in the House of Representatives. And not all the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Just a faction of those Republicans in the House of Representatives. Here’s the deal.

First Republicans said they did not want the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That got passed. Then they sued. The Supreme Court said it was legal. Then they tried to repeal the act. Over 40 times at my last counting. That didn’t work either. Then they had an idea.

What if you refuse to pass a budget unless money for Obamacare was stripped out of it. That might not kill Obamacare, but it would seriously wound it in the knee cap.

The president didn’t budge on that. He said, “Send me a budget without conditions.” The Senate was OK with that, but the House Republicans still needed to get their way, or at least part of it.

Then the House Republicans said, “We’ll leave funding for Obamacare in the budget, but we won’t pass it unless the insurance mandate is postponed for one year.” It took me a while to figure that one out. About two seconds. Yes, postpone for one year, then take another lick at it this time next year.

But the president was speaking live this afternoon, and he told how it was. “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job.”

That’s when I remembered. That’s when I remembered why I voted for this man. Twice.

The Wells Fargo Wagon

It’s here.

O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street,
Oh please let it be for me!
O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street,
I wish, I wish I knew what it could be!

But now the waiting is over. My order has arrived, and what a wonder it is to behold.

One Nation Underpaid

If you don’t already know what this is about I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. It’s the new DVD from that learned and courageous historian Mike Huckabee. To refresh your memory, here’s what I had to say about the DVD in a previous post:

Give Your Family The Most Fascinating Stories Of Our Nation With Learn Our History!


I’m passionate about America, and I’m proud of our history. And, I think it’s important that we keep our history alive by passing it on to our children in a way that makes it fun to learn. That’s why I co-founded the children’s education company called “Learn Our History”. Our mission is simple; to help our younger generations learn and appreciate history for what it is — a compass for our future. We do this through a series of fun, animated DVDs that kids love. The series follows the adventures of a group of history students who build a time-traveling bicycle that takes them back in time to see history in the making. When your kids or grandkids watch the videos, they gain an immediate understanding—and appreciation—of American history. And because the videos are so entertaining, kids don’t even realize they’re learning! I invite you to preview the series with a FREE DVD called One Nation Under God.

So, my readers, as with all things, this came to pass. As the morning follows the night, as the sun follows the rain, the Wells Fargo Wagon (USPS delivery truck) arrived at my house. And I looked in the mail box. And there it was. And what a glory it was to behold. And I got it for free (just $4.95).

And I inserted it into my computer. And I played it. And it lived up to my expectations beyong all my expectations. It was the consummate, the most impelling, the most convincing argument for God in our nation’s history I have ever beheld. Unfortunately for historians like Huckabee.

Enough of the hype. Let me get to the details. Here’s what the DVD is all about:

As you can see from the cover the creators want us to “Take pride in America’s past.” I already did that. “Learn our history.” I did a bunch of that previously, as well. What’s different is this product wants us to look at American history in a special way.

It’s a cartoon dramatization. Think South Park with a bit more gloss slathered on. Like South Park, One Nation Under God uses children to tell adult stories. In this case, one of the kids is very smart (kids are really smart these days), and he’s invented time travel. That helps in the story development.

Heroic children travel through time on their bicycles

The story starts in a class room where the teacher has the kids recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, with the “under God” wording. One kid refuses because of the under God language, and later the teacher is threatened with dismissal for this breach of school protocol.

OK, right there I hit a snag. I’ve been around the sun a few times, and I recall the time before the “under God” language was added, and I as yet unaware of any public school that disallows the “under God” language. Actually, a few years back Michael Newdow sued his daughter’s school, the United States Congress, et al, over the use of the “under God” language. The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed Newdow’s suit, since he was not the custodial guardian of his daughter and really had no legal standing in the matter. More recently, a family in Massachusetts has sued over the pledge as a violation of that state’s own equal protection clause in its constitution. So far as I know, all attempts to prohibit the “under God” language have been thwarted. So, where did the producers of One Nation get this scenario. We may have to ask learned historian Mike Huckabee.

Anyhow, to help save a favorite teacher from being fired, the students decide to travel through time and learn the history of God in this nation’s foundation. They start with the famous Pilgrims of Massachusetts, and for that they travel back to Nottinghamshire in England in 1609.

Puritans meet God in Nottinghamshire

Back in the bad old days in England there was the Catholic Church, which forbade divorce. Also there was bad old King Henry VIII, who desperately needed a divorce, possibly since he was tired of cutting off the heads of wives who fell in disfavor. The pope refused to allow Henry to divorce, so the king abolished the Catholic Church and replaced it with the Church of England. And the Protestants all said hooray!

Except, not all Protestants. Out from under the yoke of the Catholic Church this freedom of religion thing sort of ran wild. People thought, mistakenly, they now had the choice of any kind of worship they pleased. Were they ever mistaken. You need to read the history of the Puritans to get the full picture.

The accession of James I brought the Millenary Petition, a Puritan manifesto of 1603 for reform of the English church, but James wanted a new religious settlement along different lines. He called the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, and heard the views of four prominent Puritan leaders including Chaderton there, but largely sided with his bishops. Well informed by his education and Scottish upbringing on theological matters, he dealt shortly with the peevish legacy of Elizabethan Puritanism, and tried to pursue an eirenic religious policy in which he was arbiter. Many of his episcopal appointments were Calvinists, notably James Montague who was an influential courtier. Puritans still opposed much of the Catholic summation in the Church of England, notably the Book of Common Prayer, but also the use of non-secular vestments (cap and gown) during services, the sign of the Cross in baptism, and kneeling to receive Holy Communion. Although the Puritan movement was subjected to repression by some of the bishops under both Elizabeth and James, other bishops were more tolerant, and in many places, individual ministers were able to omit disliked portions of the Book of Common Prayer.

Anyhow, the kids in our drama arrive at a church in Nottinghamshire and meet the pastor and the congregation. All is going swimmingly well until suddenly armed officials burst in and demand the congregation be disbanded. Parishioners are advised that failure to comply carries the sentence of death. The children witness first hand the denial of religious faith.

What the story does not point out is that those men from the king’s government, those men who ordered the church be disbanded, those were God’s own enforcers. The scene is cast as a denial of God by the government, but the producers of this drama apparently missed the irony. This is what it looks like when the government decides to protect the word of God.

So, the Puritans (pilgrims) go to Massachusetts and the children go there, as well, in 1621. The story line follows the religiously-driven migration of Europeans to America, which is a historical fact. The story describes the continuance of religious intolerance by the colonial governments leading to fragmentation of some colonies and the formation of Rhode Island.

I don’t think the producers got across the point that religious persecution by England and the colonial governments ultimately led to the adoption of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The story line does highlight the inclusion of the “endowed by their creator” language the Declaration of Independence, but it over plays the religiosity of Adams and Jefferson.

Jefferson idealized the independent yeoman as the best exemplar of republican virtues, distrusted cities and financiers, and often favored decentralized power. He suspended his qualms about exercising the powers of the federal government to buy Louisiana. Jefferson disliked the European system of established churches and called for a wall of separation between church and state at the federal level. (But this was hardly a new idea; Roger Williams (1603–1683), the Puritan-turned-Baptist founder of Rhode Island, had established such a wall at the state level about a century before Jefferson was born, and extended freedom of religion to Quakers and Jews.) Jefferson supported efforts to disestablish the Church of England, called the Anglican Church in Virginia after the Revolution,  and authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. His Jeffersonian democracy and Democratic-Republican Party became dominant in early American politics. Jefferson’s republican political principles were strongly influenced by the 18th-century British opposition writers of the Whig Party. He had high regard for John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton.

Adams was closer to what the One Nation producers have in mind:

Frazer (2004) notes that, while Adams shared many perspectives with deists, “Adams clearly was not a deist. Deism rejected any and all supernatural activity and intervention by God; consequently, deists did not believe in miracles or God’s providence….Adams, however, did believe in miracles, providence, and, to a certain extent, the Bible as revelation.” Fraser argues that Adams’ “theistic rationalism, like that of the other Founders, was a sort of middle ground between Protestantism and deism.” By contrast, David L. Holmes has argued that John Adams, beginning as a Congregationalist, ended his days as a Christian Unitarian, accepting central tenets of the Unitarian creed but also accepting Jesus as the redeemer of humanity and the biblical account of his miracles as true. In common with many of his Protestant contemporaries, Adams criticized the claims to universal authority made by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1796, Adams denounced political opponent Thomas Paine’s Deistic criticisms of Christianity in The Age of Reason, saying, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will.”

In all this the producers have missed the point that government and religion are a bad mix.

The kids later review the case for God during World War II and also the history of the Pledge. The World War II part is almost too bizarre.

They travel to the aircraft carrier Yorktown (CV-10) in the Pacific Ocean in 1945. CV-10 replaced CV-5, which was sunk during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. On board the Yorktown the kids meet a sailor who mistakes them for a group of special civilian trainees. He recounts how the United States fleet was luck to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor over three years previous. While our entire battleship fleet in the Pacific was knocked out in the surprise attack, the carriers survived, because they were luckily out on maneuvers at the time.

The sailor tells the kids that luck had nothing to do with the carriers’ survival. It was God. And that’s the kicker.

God saved the carriers? God saved the carriers, but left the battleships to their fate? God, who by simply whispering in the fleet commander’s ear could have had all hands at battle stations and all aircraft off the ground when the Japanese attackers arrived in time for church services that Sunday morning? Yes, that God saved us on that terrible day. Anybody who takes this notion seriously would by now be looking around for a more diligent God to protect them.

As the sailor thanks God for saving the carriers at Pearl Harbor (all were later sunk during the war), there is an attack by Kamikaze planes. Again God saves the day, and the sailor is thankful God is on our side and not on the side of the Japanese with their pagan religion (my own interpretation). The anti-aircraft gunners and the air defense planes could have just stood down and let God take care of the attackers? Why not? This is the same God that created the universe, the Earth and all living things in just six days. Putting a flight of attacking Kamikazes into the drink should have a easy walk for this God.

The producers conclude with the message that religious freedom includes also Jews and Muslims. Hindus and followers of other gods are obviously left to fend for themselves without the protection of the First Amendment.

Thus spake Mike Huckabee’s interpretation of American history. I presume this sprang from one of his more lucid moments. In other parts of his life Mike Huckabee, former candidate for United States president, has expressed a belief in the supernatural:

He has claimed that angels guide his bullets when he hunts. Seriously.

“I decided that one way or another, this hunt is about to be over, because I can’t stand any more of this cold. And somehow by the grace of God, when I squeezed the trigger, my Weatherby .300 Mag., which has got to be the greatest gun, I think, ever made in the form of a rifle — for my sake in hunting, I’ve never squeezed the trigger and not gotten something — did its work and somehow the angels took that bullet and went right to the antelope, and my hunt was over in a wonderful way.”

Summation of the video: Not a bad piece as propaganda goes. The dialog and story lines could have been punched up some more, but this is, after all, a free DVD (just $4.95).

Wait, there’s more. I have just added this:

Today I received the following e-mail from the producers of One Nation:

Dear Barbara, [I ordered the free DVD, $4.95, using Barbara Jean’s credit card.]

Thank you for your business. We hope your family has been enjoying Learn Our History.

The next video in the series, Columbus and the Great Discovery, is scheduled to ship and be available for instant online streaming on 10/7/2013. In this video, viewers will sail along as our time travelers join the adventures of Columbus and learns why he is celebrated with the discovery of America. If you want to receive the video, there’s nothing you need to do. We’ll send it and activate your online streaming automatically, then bill your card on file.

You’re under no obligation to receive Columbus and the Great Discovery. If you don’t wish to receive the video, please call us any time at (877) US HISTORY (877-874-4786) by 10/6/2013.

You can always purchase the title at a later date.
Thanks again for your business.
If you have any questions whatsoever, feel free to call us at (877) 874-4786.
Jodie Craig
Customer Service Manager
Learn Our History

As I mentioned before, I placed the original order for the free DVD ($4.95) using a one-time number. That number is no longer valid after the first charge levied against it, so any attempt to “automatically, then bill your card on file” would come a cropper. I wanted to save Learn Our History an accounting train wreck, so I phoned the number tonight and told them I only wanted the one DVD. I said I got it to do some research (this blog post), and the one was all I needed.

The Great Chili Cookoff

Threats met with counter threats. A showdown was inevitable. It finally came down to a time for action. On Sunday I made the chili.

Chili, it's what's for dinner.

Chili, of course, is short for chili con carne. That’s pepper with meat. Notice there is no mention of beans. That would be chili con carne y frijoles. That’s another dish. That’s another recipe. That’s another day and also another world. This is Texas.

Here’s the video.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not yet

So, I was getting old, and I went to see my doctor. He told me I was getting old.

He asked me if I was getting enough rest, and I told him I thought so. “Do you sleep all right at night?” he asked.

I thought about it and responded, “I sleep all right at night. I sleep all right mornings, too. But afternoons I just seem to toss and turn.”

Big Oil

I needed a catchy title for this post, and Big Oil came to mind. The problem is, this post is not about Big Oil—it’s about something else. But I needed a catchy title. That’s the way journalism works.

Pumping oil along side Interstate 20 in West Texas

Anyhow, the United Nations announced the results of some findings. Yesterday that left wing liberal rag The Wall Street Journal carried the following headline:

U.N. Affirms Human Role in Global Warming
Major Report Reasserts Link Between Rising Temperatures, Fossil Fuels; Warns of a Tipping Point With Severe Effects

See what I mean. Everybody is getting into the act. Here’s what the UN had to say:

UN urges global response to scientific evidence that climate change is human-induced

27 September 2013 – United Nations officials today called for a global response to combat climate change, following new findings by a scientific panel stating it is “extremely likely” that humans have been the dominant cause of unprecedented global warming since 1950.

“The heat is on. Now we must act,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a video message to the launch of the report of the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“This new report will be essential for Governments as they work to finalize an ambitious, legal agreement on climate change in 2015,” Mr. Ban said. “The goal is to generate the political commitment to keep global temperature rise below the agreed 2-degree Celsius threshold.”

The IPCC report, released today in Stockholm, Sweden, calls global warming “unequivocal,” and confirms that there is a 95 per cent probability that most of the warming since 1950 has been caused by human influence.

That’s the bad news. The Earth’s surface (including oceans and atmosphere) is warming up, and there is going to be trouble.

Of course, we liberals all know the cause behind the problem. I shouldn’t have to spell it out, but I will. It’s Big Oil. And Big Coal. Yes, those are the villains. It’s those greedy capitalist, multi-national corporations who, with no regard to the future, are extracting carbon from the Earth, where it’s been safely sequestered for millions of years. They’re the cause of the trouble, and they need to be punished. They need to be taken to court. And sued. CEOs need to go to jail. Right!

Oops. I just noticed something. While investigating this heinous crime I did what I sometimes do. I followed the money. I figured somebody might be paying these criminal enterprises to commit these crimes, and I determined to follow the money trail back to the source and make that person accountable. I did just that, and it did not take very long. Here’s what I found:

My payoff to Big Oil

Shit, man! I’m the one paying Big Oil to do this. I’m the money bags behind the whole operation. They’re going to be coming after me! I’m the one who’s going to jail. And I’m still young yet.

All right, enough of this charade. The whole point—actually two points—is:

  1. Big Oil is not to blame for global warming.
  2. I guarantee you that if we quit paying them, they will stop drilling.

I’m going to have more fun with this topic in future posts, because that’s not all of the story. Keep coming back and keep reading

It only gets better

Actually, it turned out to be a good day at the Texas SBOE text book hearings in September. Of course there were the creationists who got up to speak, but that just made for more fun. Icing on the cake were the fans of science who came from all over. One of these was Zack Kopplin.

Zack Kopplin speaks at the rally outside the William B. Travis Building prior to the Texas SBOE text book hearings on 17 September 2013

In case you are not acquainted with Zack Kopplin, here is a short clip from his Wikipedia entry.

Zachary “Zack” Sawyer Kopplin (born July 20, 1993) is an American political activist, writer, organizer, researcher, and academic, and television personality from Louisiana. Kopplin has campaigned to keep creationism out of public school science classrooms and been involved with other separation of church and state causes. He has opposed school vouchers because they provide public money to schools which may teach creationism. As a high school student, he organized seventy-eight Nobel laureate scientists in a campaign against the Louisiana Science Education Act, a creationism law. He is also involved with science funding policy and curriculum and textbook policy. His new campaign calls for a launching Second Giant Leap for Humankind, through a reinvestment in science and through ensuring students learn science.

It gets even better. At the rally prior to the text book hearings, Texas Freedom Network president Kathy Miller disclosed the good news that Zack had moved from Louisiana to Texas. Louisiana’s loss is our gain.

Later, speaking before the Board, Zack disclosed the startling news that major scientific societies, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, supports the theory of evolution, proclaiming that evolution is the underlying theory of the biological science. Don’t you just hate it when some smart guy comes all the way from Louisiana to Texas just to tell you something you already know? That’s Zack Kopplin for you. A video clip of Zack’s talk is available on YouTube.

He also explained, patiently I am sure, that requiring the teaching of “strengths and weaknesses” is superfluous law. Science does that already. That’s the way science works. The only reason, according to Zack, some Board members want language like that in the science standards is to provide a hint that something might be wrong with the theory of evolution. See what I mean? There he goes again. Zack came all the way from Louisiana to tell the SBOE what they already knew—that some members were proposing such language just to put a special twist on the requirements in order to cast doubt on the purely natural explanations of science.

Anyhow, now that Zack Kopplin is here, here’s hoping he plans to stay a while.

Informed Advice for the SBOE

One of a continuing series from the Texas State Board of Education text book hearings in September

There is more dark news from the SBOE hearings earlier this month, but before I dig into that, here is a bit of fresh air.

Ron Wetherington addresses the Texas SBOE 17 September 2013

Ronald Wetherington is a Professor at Southern Methodist University teaching, among other subjects:

Human Evolution
Forensic Anthropology: Stories Told by Bones
Concepts of Evolution: A History
Special Topics in Anthropology: Human Osteology

You can review his remarks on YouTube. He addressed the Board and praised open discussion but  “that is still not an excuse to suggest that, in effect, my ignorance is just as as good as your knowledge.” He also asked the Board to not again let Texas become a national embarrassment.

Oops, too late for that.

Some of the country’s most prominent evolution deniers are also on the review teams. They include Ide Trotter, a retired chemical engineer who has served as a spokesperson for a Texas creationist group; Walter Bradley, a retired professor of engineering at Baylor University who wrote a founding text of “intelligent design” creationism; and Ray Bohlin, vice president for Probe Ministries, a Plano-based evangelical Christian ministry that rejects evolution. Bradley and Bohlin are also fellows with the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based institutional home of the “intelligent design” creationism movement.

Nice try, Professor Wetherington, but you are several years too late. Texans have been embarrassing themselves for decades by electing education board officials who seek these low-pay positions only to promote their own world views.

Professor Wethering further urged the Board to give due examination to complaints that were submitted by some reviewers. In viewing these complaints the Board should analyze the specifics and differentiate between scientific validity and personal preference of the reviewer.

Small chance of that. Conversations with some of the Board members and listening to some off their remarks brings me to the conclusion these people came to the Board with a religious or political agenda. As noted in the article quoted above, board members appointed these creationists to the review panels with the purpose of detracting from key points of modern science.

Ron Wetherington occupies a position I can only dream to attain. He’s on the creationists’ hit list. Back in 2009 the Discovery Institute, the major organization in this country opposing modern theories of evolution, posted the following on their Web site:

At the January 21, 2009 expert’s hearing to review the draft TEKS, SMU anthropologist Ronald Wetherington confidently assured the Texas State Board of Education that there were no weaknesses in Darwinian evolution for students to learn about. Yet as the following review documents, Dr. Wetherington in his testimony frequently misstated or exaggerated the scientific evidence for his position, and he made repeated outright errors in what he told the Board. Dr. Wetherington’s inaccurate testimony reflects the unfortunate tendency of some members of the “evolution lobby” to offer unsubstantiated arguments to public officials that they would never make to their professional colleagues.

The DI posting went on to develop nine rebuttals to Professor Wetherington, one of which I have the ability to analyze:

I. Prof. Wetherington dogmatically asserted that biochemist Michael Behe’s arguments about irreducible complexity have been refuted, claiming: “That debate is over” because “the evidence for irreducible complexity had been satisfactorily falsified.” Clearly, this debate is not over since there are scientific publications that have supported Behe’s notions of irreducible complexity, including:

Followed by a number of citations to support their argument.

The problem boils down to a single point.  Behe’s arguments have been repeatedly refuted by main stream scientists working in the field. Behe’s argument for irreducible complexity has never been published in a legitimate scientific journal. The DI has, on occasion, cited Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box as a peer-reviewed publication. However, a review of the review process indicated one cited review consisted only of a brief phone conversation.

In 2005, while testifying for the defense in the Dover trial, Behe claimed under oath that the book had received a more thorough peer review than a scholarly article in a refereed journal,[16] a claim which appears to conflict the facts of the book’s peer review.[17] Four of the book’s five reviewers (Michael Atchison, Robert Shapiro, K. John Morrow, and Russell Doolittle) have made statements that contradict or otherwise do not support Behe’s claim of the book passing a rigorous peer review.

Michael Atchison

Atchison has stated that he did not review the book at all, but spent 10 minutes on the phone receiving a brief overview of the book which he then endorsed without ever seeing the text.

Robert Shapiro

Shapiro has said that he reviewed the book, and while he agreed with some of its analysis of origin-of-life research, he thought its conclusions are false, though the best explanation of the argument from design that was available. Had the book been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and this comment had appeared, the review provided by Shapiro would have forced the conclusions regarding intelligent design to be changed or removed.

K. John Morrow

Morrow criticized the book as appalling and unsupported, which contributed to the original publisher turning down the book for publication.

Russell Doolittle

Doolittle, upon whom Behe based much of his discussion of blood clotting, described it as misrepresenting many important points and disingenuous, which also contributed to the original publisher turning down the book for publication.

In the same trial, Behe eventually testified under oath that “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred”. The result of the trial was the ruling that intelligent design is not science and is essentially religious in nature.

The Dover reference is to the Federal Court trial Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Here is a choice section of the court record from Michael Behe’s cross examination by Erik Rothschild, attorney for the plaintiffs:

Q. We’ll return to that in a little while. Let’s turn back to Darwin’s Black Box and continue discussing the immune system. If you could turn to page 138? Matt, if you could highlight the second full paragraph on page 138? What you say is, “We can look high or we can look low in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system.” That’s what you wrote, correct?

A. And in the context that means that the scientific literature has no detailed testable answers to the question of how the immune system could have arisen by random mutation and natural selection.

Q. Now, you were here when Professor Miller testified?

A. Yes.

Q. And he discussed a number of articles on the immune system, correct?

A. Yes, he did.

Q. May I approach, Your Honor?

THE COURT: You may.

Q. I’m just going to quickly identify what these articles are. Exhibit P-256, “Transposition of HAT elements, links transposable elements, and VDJ recombination,” that’s an article in Nature by Zau, et al. P-279, an article in Science, “Similarities between initiation of VDJ recombination and retroviral integration,” Gent, et al.

“VDJ recombination and RAG mediated transposition in yeast,” P-280, that’s in Molecular Cell by Platworthy, et al. P-281 in the EMBO Journal, “En vivo transposition mediated VDJ recombinates in human T lymphocytes,” Messier, et al, spelled like the hockey player. P-283, it says PLOS Biology, do you recognize that journal title?

A. Yes. It stands for Public Library of Science.

Q. And that’s an article by Kapitnov and Gerka, RAG 1-4 and VDJ recombination, signal sequences were derived from transposons.” P-747, an article in Nature, “Implications of transposition mediated by VDJ recombination proteins, RAG 1 and RAG 2, for origins of antigen specific immunities,” Eglewall, et al. P-748 in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, “Molecular evolution of vertebrate immune system,” Bartle, et al., and now finally Exhibit P-755 in Blood , “VDJ recombinates mediated transposition with the BCL 2 gene to the IGH locus and follicular lymphoma.” Those were the articles in peer reviewed scientific journals that were discussed by Mr. Miller which you listened in on, correct?

A. I recognize most of them. Some of them I don’t recall, but that’s fine.

Q. They discuss the transposing hypothesis?

A. Yes, they do.

Q. And the kind of mutation being discussed in here is a transposition in most of these?

A. You have to — it depends on how you look at it. In many of them they’re not actually discussing mutation. They’re discussing similarities and sequences between parts of the immune system in vertebrates and some elements of transposons.

Q. But it does discuss the transpositions, correct?

A. It does, yes.

Q. In many of the articles, maybe all of them?

A. That’s correct.

Q. You indicated earlier when we were discussing your paper with Dr. Snoke that transpositions are a kind of mutation, correct?

A. Yes, they are.

Q. Now, you on Monday showed the court, or maybe it was Tuesday you showed the court that you had done a literature search of articles on the immune system looking for the words “random mutation,” correct?

A. Yes.

Q. But you didn’t search for transpositions, is that correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. And that word appears in a number of the titles here?

A. It does, but the critical difference is the word random. There’s lots of mutations, and it’s entirely possible that intelligent design or some process of the development of life can occur by changes in DNA, but the critical factor is are such changes random, are they not random, so just there are also many occurrences of the word mutation, but it was not just mutation that is the critical element of Darwinian theory. It is random mutation.

Q. But in modern Darwinian theory transposition is one of the kind of mutations that natural selection acts upon, correct?

A. It is a mutation, and natural selection can act upon it.

Q. So the word mutation didn’t show up, or random mutation, but a form of mutation that natural selection can act upon appears throughout these articles, correct?

A. Yes, that is right.

Q. And you also noted that natural selection does not appear in these articles?

A. That’s correct.

This went on for a while, during which Mr. Rothschild piled in front of Professor Behe a stick of journal publications addressing “the question of the origin of the immune system.” At the end Behe had to ask Mr. Rothschild to take the pile away.

Anyhow, that’s the nature of DI attacks on scientists who speak out against the absurdity that is Intelligent Design. My view: they attack with the same contrived evidence they use to support Intelligent Design in the first place.

Ronald Wetherington is in an enviable position. My thinking has long been that you can measure your own worth by the character of the people who attack you. It was really good to see you at the hearings, Professor Wetherington, and I hope you continue to render fine public service.

David Walls at the SBOE Hearings

One of a continuing series from the Texas State Board of Education text book hearings in September

Obviously things were not all sturm und drang at the SBOE hearings. Many people showed up who actually made sense. Here is one of them. David Walls of Texas Values is one of those people the creationist can’t stand, because he is overtly religious and yet gives strong support to  natural evolution and other aspects of modern science. I have posted his presentation on YouTube.

David Walls of Texas Values

David previously worked on the campaign of Texas State Senator Brian Birdwell and interned for the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. Mr. Walls has received a MA in Political Science and Legislative Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas and was honored as an Archer Center Graduate Program in Public Policy Fellow. He has also received a MBA from the University of Texas in Arlington and received his undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University. David is a native Texan who grew up in the Dallas area. He currently lives in Austin with his wife and son, and is a member at Grace Covenant Church.

At the hearings he noted the adoption of standards that require critical evaluation in all fields of science. In years past the Board had supported similar language that applied only to evolution, climate science and other fields that are at odds with conservative politics.

So much for that. Following David’s presentation my SBOE representative, Ken Mercer of San Antonio, got on the microphone. He noted Walls’ reference to the process for correcting factual errors and praised this accomplishment. Then he had his say:

I’ll make you the same offer I’ve made every time. … If you find me one example in biology or chemistry the word God or Jesus, Buddha or Mohamed, one time, I’ll give you five hundred dollars.

Ken Mercer at the SBOE hearings 17 September 2013

What Mr. Mercer from District 5 is saying is that assertions that members of the Board are attempting to inject religion into the curriculum are completely fallacious. Of course the biology and chemistry texts do not mention famous religious figures. These texts are about biology and chemistry, not religion. Religion is not in the content of the curriculum but it is in the focus of some Board members.

I concede there are people who oppose natural evolution, though they are not religious. However, Mercer is not one of these few. All indications are that Mercer is of the Christian faith, and we will note that a basic tenet of Christianity is belief in the God of Abraham, who by all accounts in the Bible, created the Universe, the Earth and all living things. Mr. Mercer may claim he only wants legitimate arguments against natural evolution to be included in the biology curriculum, but the fact is he wants arguments against evolution included because this provides comfort in the class room for his Christian faith. If, in fact, Ken Mercer does not have such a goal, then he is going to a lot of trouble for nothing. If he did, in fact, desire to warp the curriculum to accommodate his Christian beliefs, then he would be advised to do exactly what he is now doing.

This blog is not finished with a review of creationist activity in the 2013 review process. Read more in subsequent posts.

Creationists at the SBOE Hearings

Yesterday I posted an item A Creationist at the SBOE Hearings. Today is the same topic, only I’m going to pick up on some stuff I didn’t cover before, because I was really spending too much time on the computer.

Yesterday was about creationist Ray Bohlin’s presentation at the State Board of Education hearings last week. I made a video, and I posted some of it. The remainder of the video has some interesting stuff I left out. Here is some more.

Ray Bohlin at the SBOE hearings 17 September 2013

[Apparently SBOE chair Barbara Cargill] tells Bohlin that she appreciates his contribution to the review process, and she asks him what degrees he holds. This has got to be rich. As sure as it’s going to be hot in San Antonio today Barbara Cargill already knows about Bohlin’s degrees, because she worked to get him and other creationists on the biology review panels. “I’m one of you.” But she had her agenda for the day, and part of it was to defend the creationists and to show up the evolutionists. For the record, Ray Bohlin holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, along with other degrees in science.

Cargill agrees that Bohlin is very qualified to serve on the review panel, and she states she is “very protective” of the volunteers. I could add, “the creationist volunteers,” but then I would be prosecutorial. She goes on to express her concern that the process was supposed to be evaluating the text books and instructional material, but now we see the evaluators being evaluated. Sacrebleu!

OK, let me get this straight. Barbara Cargill worked the machinery to get creationists other anti-science types on the review panels. Then some people pointed this out and notified the public that these people were being placed on the panels to review educational material for the public schools. Then these creationists reviewed the course material and from time to time placed factually deficient comments on the review forms in their attempts to discredit certain fields of legitimate science. Now people are complaining about that, and Barbara Cargill is shocked. Shocked! Sacrebleu!

Let me give you an analogy:

There’s a cookie factory, and they need volunteers to inspect the cookies coming off the production line, so Barbara Cargill appoints some people of like persuasion to herself to help inspect the cookies. Now people are complaining that inspectors are eating some of the cookies. And Barbara Cargill is complaining about these complaints. Sacrebleu! What is the world coming to?

It gets better.

The next voice is that of my own representative on the SBOE, Ken Mercer of District 5 (San Antonio).

I just want to ask again, because this has been… It really hurts me, because we try to get people to be reviewers, and they’re having their comments [from the preliminary rounds] published…

Mercer goes on to complain:

And now they’re fearful for their jobs.

The Board is trying to get people to be reviewers, and they couldn’t get enough reviewers from all the public school teachers and university professors to take the positions? Really? I was on the physics review panel, and we did not seem to any trouble getting people to review those books. And nobody was recommending that objections to the theory of quantum mechanics be taught, as well.

When it comes to people fearful of losing their jobs, I am sure Mr. Mercer is not talking about Ray Bohlin, because Ray Bohlin is not fearful for his job. He heads up Probe Ministries out of Plano, Texas, and he has been doing his job to the best of his ability to discredit the science behind evolution and climate change. We also know the other creationists on the review panels are not fearful of their jobs. Ide Trotter is founder of Trotter Capital Management Inc. and is a well-known creationist. Walter Bradley “is on the selection committee for the Trotter Prize, which rewards work on intelligent design.” All three of these have spoken publicly on their positions on evolution, positions they brought with them when they volunteered to review biology texts.

There’s more. From the Texas Freedom Network I learned that Richard White was also scheduled to review biology text books.

Richard White, a systems (network) engineer in Austin, testified at an SBOE hearing on the proposed science curriculum standards on March 25, 2009. At the time, he advocated the inclusion of phony “weaknesses” of evolution in Texas science standards.

The “strengths and weaknesses of evolution is code language meant to encourage teachers to focus on “weaknesses” of evolution. The weaknesses are essentially arguments that have been put forth for decades by creationists and refuted for decades by mainstream science.

I am guessing that with his previous testimony before the SBOE Richard White has been effectively outed as a creationist. Will somebody please give me a nickel for every software engineer, network administrator who is an avowed creationist. I need to take a vacation in Acapulco. None of these people, to my knowledge, have ever lost their job because their bosses found out they were creationists. I once had a Young Earth Creationist working for me, and he did not lose his job, although I was subsequently reluctant to trust his judgment in other matters. David Coppedge was one such who claimed he lost his job because of his “religious convictions” because he was advocating Intelligent Design to his co-workers. A court has thrown out his wrongful termination suit against JPL.

And another:

David Zeiger is a seventh-grade teacher at a Christian private school in North Texas. He holds a biochemistry degree from the University of Texas at Dallas. In 2009 he and his wife, Heather, opposed removing from the state’s science curriculum standards the requirement that students learn about so-called “weaknesses” of evolution. Creationists has [sic] used that requirement to insist that publishers include discredited arguments challenging evolution, such as supposed “gaps” in the fossil record. We don’t know whether Zeiger is participating the review panels this week.

It is doubtful David Zeiger will lose his job at a Christian private school for opposing evolution.

And there’s Daniel Romo:

Daniel Romo is Professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University. His BA is from Texas A and M and his Ph.D. is from Colorado State University. His postdoc [sic] is from Harvard.

My opinion: One way to get outed as a creationist is to comment against evolution in the text book review process. Another, and even better, way is to get listed in the Creation Hall of Fame.

Mr. Mercer, really?

I just want to ask again, because this has been… It really hurts me, because we try to get people to be reviewers, and they’re having their comments [from the preliminary rounds] published…

And now they’re fearful for their jobs.

Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.

Ken Mercer may have a point, however. A publicly elected official who professes ignorance of modern science (and is proud of it) could be in danger of losing his job. I, for one, vow to never vote for him again. Wait! I didn’t vote for him last year. OK, not only will I not vote for him, I will give money to whoever runs against him. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!

I just love it. Ken Mercer went on about needing to believe, not just preach and teach, but believe in evolution to keep your job. “It became almost like a religious test,” he went on. So, people are losing their jobs because they don’t believe in evolution? Really? Jesus! The courts must be clogged with wrongful termination suits. Just look how long David Coppedge’s case went on. And he was not even a public school teacher. Has anybody noticed recently how much effort it takes to fire a public school teacher?

Just for fun, I’m going to set that aside for a moment. Suppose not believing in the science behind natural evolution or the science behind climate change were ever used as a reason for termination. Would that be reasonable? Are there comparable situations? Let me pose an example.

Coming to work with your fly unzipped would not keep you from teaching good science, and it may not even be illegal. But how many times would a teacher (software engineer) have to do this before his boss called him around to talk things over? My point? Missing the facts behind natural evolution and the science behind global warming is the intellectual equivalent of going around with your fly unzipped. It demonstrates to all who will observe that there is something missing in your personal makeup.

Creationists may claim this is an unfair comparison, but they need to step back and look at this from the viewpoint of the real world. The real world does not hold to reincarnation, snakes that can talk and magical, yet invisible, people who go around tinkering with nature to make things come out in favor of a select world view. And neither should people in responsible positions in public education.