January 2012

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In reponse to the latest crawling from a Student Union over the recent Jesus and Mo fracas, and indeed the recent example of intimidation at an event featuring a dicussion of sharia law and women’s rights:

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The blog’s been a bit quiet lately, because I have been busy.  Partly with work, but also because I embarked on reading one of the major works in the Intelligent Design canon.

I am halfway through Stephen Meyer’s opus ‘Signature in the Cell’. (I bought this as a Kindle edition, which hasn’t been well put together by the publisher).  So far he’s been alternating between schoolbook level molecular biology, and a history of theories of the origin of life (his treatment of origin of life is rather more detailed, and presumably reflects elements of his PhD thesis).  Intermingled with this are strange bids for sympathy (for example over the Dover trial and the fiasco of the improperly refereed paper) and odd anecdotes, which resemble parables and which are claimed to be examples of how he teaches students, via bizarre straw man arguments. Oh, and a credulous treatment of Dembski’s version information theory (specified functional information is frequently mentioned but never defined adequately). It’s all very odd, and so far seems to be building up to the proposition that because science hasn’t explained the origin of life satisfactorily (to Meyer’s satisfaction, I mean), that a supernatural entity must have done it. Stylistically, the book’s a mixture of clarity and obfuscation, which may well reflect the subject areas that Meyer is most and least comfortable with.

I’m looking forward to a detailed description of how Meyer thinks an intelligent designer may have brought all this to pass.  Hopefully I’ll have finished the book reasonably soon, when I’ll put together a review.

Update: I note that Jack Scanlon (So, Discovery Institute, do I win an award or what?) has been flagged at another post at the ridiculously named Evolution News and Views ‘blog’ (One of These Days, Alice, One of These Days. Pow! Right in the Kisser!).  Well, I began trudging through the 550-odd pages of text as soon as the book was delivered to my Kindle.  I am still manfully ploughing through it.

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Today

A nice response to the ongoing fracas at the UCL student’s union over the use of a Jesus and Mo cartoon in an atheist group’s publicity. Read more about this at The New Humanist (Student atheist society in censorship row with student union over Muhammad cartoon)

The Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASHS) at University College London has become embroiled in a censorship row with the university’s student union over the use of a Muhammad-related cartoon on a Facebook page advertising its weekly drinks social.

An interesting situation, particularly given UCL’s origin as the first University in England to be established on an entirely secular basis. My irony meter is flickering in the red zone.

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According to the BHA website, Government changes Free School model funding agreement to ban creationist schools. From that article:

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed a new revision of the model funding agreement for Free Schools by the Government in order to preclude ‘the teaching, as an evidence-based view or theory, of any view or theory that is contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations.’ This highly significant change has been made in order to ban creationism from being taught in Free Schools, and prevent creationist groups from opening schools. The change follows the BHA coordinating the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ campaign, which called for this precise change.

Good news indeed. More information at the BHA website, with further onward links.

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One of the recurring modes adopted by Intelligent Design creationists is to adopt the strategy whereby an example of a complex biological system is looked at and it is decided that evolution cannot explain its origin. We see this enshrined in bogus concepts such as ‘irreducible complexity’, ‘specified functional information’ and the like. By claiming a process of inference, ID creationists seek to declare that an intelligent designer must have been involved in the appearance of such complex systems.

Of course, the problem with this strategy is that one by one, these examples are likely to fall to genuine scientific advance (examples include Behe’s favourites such as the bacterial flagellum and the vertebrate immune system spring to mind).  A neat example of  an approach to better understanding the evolution of protein complexes has just appeared as an Advance Online Publication at Nature (Finnigan et al (2012) Nature “Evolution of increased complexity in a molecular machine” doi:10.1038/nature10724). There’s also an accompanying News and Views article (Doolittle (2012) Nature “Evolutionary biology: A ratchet for protein complexity” doi:10.1038/nature10816). Read the rest of this entry »

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The British Humanist association reports that the Everyday Champions Church is returning to the Free Scool fray (Creationist Everyday Champions Church re-launch Free School bid as ‘Exemplar Academy’). Sort of, anyway.  It turns out it’s the same people, without overt Church involvement.  According to the BHA:

Everyday Champions Academy was proposed and sponsored by Everyday Champions Church, a creationist church based in Newark. Following having their bid rejected, the team met with the Department for Education in an attempt to get the decision overturned, and their local MP, Patrick Mercer, met with Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove to attempt the same thing.

What the heck their MP is doing trying to go against Government policy on not teaching creation?  Anyway, the people behind the bid are trying again.

The new Exemplar Academy is proposed by the same group of individuals from Everyday Champions Church as proposed the previous Free School, however the Church is no longer sponsoring the school, and the school will no longer be formally designated with a religious character. Instead, it will have a Christian ‘faith ethos’. 

Sounds ominous to me.  It’s worth visiting the BHA site for the full low-down.  Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to attempts by evangelicals and fundamentalists to drum their ridiculous creationist notions into children’s minds.

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The latest newsletter from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) is now available on the BCSE Blog.

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