December 2009

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The very excellent website of the British Centre for Science Education has continued their coverage of their reports that Truth in Science are distributing the creationist text Explore Evolution to UK schools (Truth in Science – Letter to all UK schools › British Centre for Science Education).  There’s not much to add to the BCSE’s article.  Though I wonder how Truth in Science can have the gall to call themselves that.

The TiS letter that accompanies the book is signed by Professor Andy McIntosh, who is (according to BCSE) at the University of Leeds.  He is profiled at Answers in Genesis – as you can see, his academic qualifications don’t appear to stretch as far as the biological sciences.

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The London Evening Standard (Catholics ‘forced film chiefs to scrap Dark Materials trilogy’ | News) reports that US catholic “spokesperson” Bill Donohue successfully led a campaign to prevent film makewrs from completing the Dark Materials trilogy (these thing do always seem to be trilogies).  The article quotes Donohue as saying:

“I am
delighted the boycott worked. Just as the producers have a right to
make the movie, I have a right to protest.

“The reason I
protested was the deceitful attempt to introduce Christian children to
the wonders of atheism in a backdoor fashion at Christmas time.
Everyone agrees the film version was not anti-Catholic, but that hardly
resolves the issue. The fact is that each volume in the trilogy becomes
increasingly anti-Catholic.”

He added: “I knew if we could hurt the box office receipts here, it might put the brakes on the next movie.

“I
also knew this boycott would work because once the word got out that
the movie was bait for the books, Christian parents would take their
kids to see Alvin And The Chipmunks. Which they did, in far greater
number.”

Bill Donohue crosses my radar rather more than is strictly palatable due to the frequency with which he crosses swords with PZ Myers (Pharyngula blog). While I’m not particularly a Pullman fan, I do find it rather pathetic that a major institution like the Catholic Church feels threatened by cinema.

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Here’s an amusing Wikileak: Young-earth creationist Kent Hovind’s doctoral dissertation.  Kent Hovind is an American young earth creationist who’s current residence is listed in his Wikipedia entry as “currently housed in the Federal Correctional Institution, Edgefield (South Carolina)”.  Also from Wikipedia:

young  earth creationist Kent Hovind (image from Wkikipedia)

young earth creationist Kent Hovind (image from Wkikipedia)

Kent E. Hovind (born January 15, 1953) is an American Young Earth creationist and conspiracy theorist famous for his creation science seminars that aim to convince listeners to reject modern theories of evolution, geophysics, and cosmology in favor of biblical creation. Hovind’s views are criticized by the scientific community at large and even some fellow Young Earth creationist organizations like Answers in Genesis.

Hovind established the Creation Science Evangelism ministry in 1989 and frequently argued for Young Earth creationism and made other controversial remarks in his talks at private schools and churches, at debates, and on radio and television broadcasts.

Since November 2006 Hovind is serving a ten-year prison sentence in the Federal Correctional Institution, Edgefield in Edgefield, South Carolina, after being convicted of 58 federal counts, including twelve tax offenses, one count of obstructing federal agents and forty-five counts of structuring cash transactions.

Front view of Patriot University (image from Wkikipedia)

Front view of Patriot University (image from Wkikipedia)

Hovind has a PhD from Patriot University. Hovind’s doctoral thesis appears to be a rambling rendition of misrepresentation, coming across as some kind of pulpit-speech. Most bizarre. It begins:

“Hello, my name is Kent Hovind. I am a creation/science evangelist. I
live in Pensacola, Florida. I have been a high school science teacher
since 1976. I’ve been very active in the creation/evolution controversy
for quite some time.”

I have to say that having skimmed through the leaked pdf file, the man has to get some kind of award for sustaining the drivel for 110 or so pages.  Perhaps prison?

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The British Centre for Science Education reports that Truth in Science (?) Issue Creationist Text Book to UK Schools.

Interestingly, one of the authors of this book, Explore Evolution,  is the same Stephen Meyer who’s book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design was so enthusiastically reviewed by Alastair Noble, proponent of Intelligent Design.  The three authors are all Discovery Institute members; the book itself is published by the creationist run Hill House Publishers, who describe it as follows:

The purpose of Explore Evolution, is to examine the scientific controversy about Darwin’s theory, and in particular, the contemporary version of the theory known as neo-Darwinism. Whether you are a teacher, a student, or a parent, this book will help you understand what Darwin’s theory of evolution is, why many scientists find it persuasive, and why other scientists question the theory or some key aspects of it.

Sometimes, scientists find that the same evidence can be explained in more than one way. When there are competing theories, reasonable people can (and do) disagree about which theory best explains the evidence. Furthermore, in the historical sciences, neither side can directly verify its claims about past events. Fortunately, even though we can’t directly verify these claims, we can test them. How? First, we gather as much evidence as possible and look at it carefully. Then, we compare the competing theories in light of how well they explain the evidence.

Looking at the evidence and comparing the competing explanations will provide the most reliable path to discovering which theory, if any, gives the best account of the evidence at hand. In science, it is ultimately the evidence—and all of the evidence—that should tell us which theory offers the best explanation. This book will help you explore that evidence, and we hope it will stimulate your interest in these questions as you weigh the competing arguments.

Let’s be clear, there is no scientific controversy about whether evolution is true.  The dunderheads at creationist lobby organisations such as the Discovery Institute push this line of “it’s only a theory” without understanding (wilfully or not) the nature of the scientific process and the equally idiotic “teach the controversy” – there is no scientific controversy.  Sneaking these books into school libraries is deceitful, particularly given the language in the quotation above.

Read more at the BCSE page linked above.

From the Wikipedia page (Explore Evolution) – and this is a highly informative page that is well worth reading:

Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism is a supplementary or enrichment biology text book written by a group of intelligent design supporters and published in 2007.
Its promoters describe it as aimed at helping educators and students to
discuss “the controversial aspects of evolutionary theory that are
discussed openly in scientific books and journals but which are not
widely reported in textbooks.” As one of the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns to “teach the controversy” it aims to provide a “lawsuit-proof” way of attacking evolution and implying creationism / intelligent design without being explicit.

The book is co-authored by three Discovery Institute members, Stephen C. Meyer, Scott Minnich and Paul A. Nelson, as well as illustrator and creationist author Jonathan Moneymaker and Kansas evolution hearings participant Ralph Seelke.Hill House Publishers Pty. Ltd. ( Melbourne and London), headed by creationist and butterfly photographer Bernard d’Abrera, is the publisher of Explore Evolution.

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Alastair Noble recently wrote a risible (at least in my view, and that of many who left comments)  comment article in The Guardian (Intelligent design should not be excluded from the study of origins), on which I and other have commented in the blogosphere (and indeed as I write, it seems to have attained 1669 comments, mostly rather critical).  In the article, Noble presented his qualifications as

a former science teacher and schools inspector

However, as I pointed out earlier, his brief Guardian bio says this:

Dr Alastair Noble is an educational consultant and lay preacher, and a former teacher and research chemist

Aside from this, I wondered what else he does, what his PhD is in and so forth.  A quick Google search revealed another brief biography at the Misson Scotland website (actually the Google result lists this as Mission Scotland : Dr Alastair Noble – The Wise One!)  Here we find the biography:

Alastair has been a high school chemistry teacher, adviser, schools
inspector and educational administrator.  He has also worked on
educational programmes within the BBC, the CBI and the Health Service.
He currently works as the Field Officer of The Headteachers’
Association of Scotland and an Educational Consultant with CARE in
Scotland – a Christian charity which works across a range of public
policy issues.  He is married to [xxxx], has two grown up children, is a
lay preacher, an elder at Cartsbridge Evangelical Church, Busby, and
lives in Eaglesham.

So our former science teacher and schools inspector is an elder at an Evangelical Church.  He also has his finger in a number of pies.  The same Google search turned up a 5-star review of Stephen Meyer’s book on Intelligent Design, which earned a robust comment.  (Interestingly, this comment revealed that Noble is a signatory to the Discovery Institute‘s PR statement A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism (that’s a link to a realistically critical Wikipedia page – you can see the list of signatories here – pdf). In turn, this states Alastair Noble as holding a PhD in Chemistry from Glasgow University.  None of the top Google hits related to chemistry.)  The Discovery Institute view Intelligent Design as a Wedge Strategy – a strategy to get religiously motivated anti-evolutionary teaching into American schools.

I can well believe that Dr Noble is a compassionate man with a real social conscience, who works in many capacities to help communities…but (and I think it’s a big but) I don’t think a man with his background should be intervening in the content of science classes, at least where evolutionary biology is concerned.

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The Christian Concern for our Nation website takes up their cudgels to stand up for a sacked housing officer: Justice for Duke Campaign. In common with many religious sites, there doesn’t appear to be a comment feature for curmudgeonly atheists such as I to respond. Any road, the article describes how

Bible-believing Christian Duke Amachree, married and father of 3 children who had served Wandsworth Council as a Homelessness Prevention Officer diligently for 18 years, was dismissed in circumstances Christians and non-Christians alike across the country rightly view as completely outrageous.

Well this non-Christian (actually atheist) doesn’t find it completely outrageous, at least based on the evidence presented by CCfoN.

In January of this year, Duke was helping a client with her housing situation. The client had seen various doctors who had told her that she had an incurable medical condition. Out of compassion for her, Duke commented that sometimes the doctors don’t know everything –and encouraged her to consider putting her faith in God.

The client went on to complain to Amachree’s managers, who then fired him. CCfoN are organising a Petition, Campaign, special website and Candlelight Vigil 15 December 2009 in support of this individual, who, in their capacity as a housing officer, advised a seriously ill client that she should put her faith in his Invisible Magic Friend rather than her doctors.

I say (on the basis on this information provided by CCfoN), Wandsworth Council did the right thing.  I’d be interested to hear what medical qualifications Mr Amachree possesses.  Other than superstitious beliefs.  I can well believe Mr Amachree may have believed he was doing his best for this client, but he clearly overstepped the mark.

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Here’s a nice cartoon over at geekstir (click on image)

Hat-tip: Heather over at Why Don’t You Blog?

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Alastair Noble has a comment piece in the Guardian (Response: Intelligent design should not excluded from the study of origins) in which he argues that Intelligent Design should be included in UK science lessons. It’s in response tot the news a few weeks ago that evolution was back on the national curriculum for primary school science lessons – in this context, he insists that ID should be afforded the status as science.  In his comment article he says:

As a former science teacher and schools inspector, I am disturbed that proposals for science education are based on near-complete ignorance of intelligent design.

This statement is a little economical with the truth for, as his brief bio on the article says:

Dr Alastair Noble is an educational consultant and lay preacher, and a former teacher and research chemist. (my emphasis)

So, no bias there.  Alastair, ID is not a science, makes no testable predictions and is a pathetic attempt at an explanation of the diversity of life that relies on the existence of a designer – in other words a supernatural force or creator.  It’s religious belief with a fake veneer of science.  What exactly are your biological research qualifications?

It is an all too common error to confuse intelligent design with religious belief. While creationism draws its conclusions primarily from religious sources, intelligent design argues from observations of the natural world. And it has a good pedigree. A universe intelligible by design principles was the conclusion of many of the great pioneers of modern science.

It is easily overlooked that the origin of life, the integrated complexity of biological systems and the vast information content of DNA have not been adequately explained by purely materialistic or neo-Darwinian processes. Indeed it is hard to see how they ever will.

Alistair, it’s not a confusion to confuse ID with religious belief.  ID is part of a wedge strategy to deflect teaching away from evidence based science towards an unsubstantiated belief in a “designer” – it argues from a position of ignorance of biological processes and from a failure to understand.  Furthermore its pedigree is not good – to cite the great pioneers of science is to ignore that they were probably working in an era in which a true understanding of evolutionary biology had not been reached.  Evolutionary biology does not explain the origins of life (other branches of science seek to do that, and I believe that the integrated complexity of biological systems have beenn and are being explained by the evidence-based process of scientific enquiry – which includes evolutionary biology, but not the intellectually inadequate “Intelligent Design”.

Noble goes on to suggest that evolution is not observable.  I say go and read “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne: he gives a hugely eloquent exposition of how evolutionary processes are not only supported by a huge quantity of evidence, but that it make testable predictions.  And that all these predictions, when tested, support evolution.  And in this it is complete contrast to the vacuous ideas of Intelligent Design.

Teach ID in religious education classes.  That’s where it belongs, not in science education.

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