Archives December 2005

Happy Holidays

Please forgive the rather generic title of this post. It might have been better to spell it out: Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and happy Hannukah, happy Kwanzaa, joyous winter solstice, joyful Dong zhi, blessed Advent, St. Stephen’s, and St. John’s days, holy Holy Innocents’ Day and happy Watch Night, yummy feasts of the Circumcision and of Fools, festive Festivus, happy Hogswatchnight, merry Mondranect and Yule, yippee Yalda, smokin’ Saturnalia, enlightened Agnostica, happy HumanLight, celestial Newtonmas, bravo Boxing Day, happy Hogmanay, and wonderful Karachun, but that seemed too much to write out.

So whatever it is you celebrate, I wish you fun and good cheer. And if you don’t celebrate anything, geeze! Stop being such a Grinch. It’s not as if there isn’t enough choice.

Was Dover Inevitable?

After following the Dover Panda trial and reading the judge’s decision, I was engaging in some Monday-morning quarterbacking, and pondering whether it might have turned out differently.

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More Quotes From the Dover Smackdown

Some more quotations from the Dover trial decision (part 1 is here):

The real money quote is in judge Jones’s conclusion, p. 136:

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

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Mike Argento On the Dover Decision

The incomparable Mike Argento, the H.L. Mencken of the Dover Panda trial, regales us with his take on the decision in his latest column

It’s a smackdown.

This ruling should consign intelligent design to the scrapbin of bad ideas and finally permit the fanatics who push it – the disingenuous drones of the Discovery Institute – to fulfill their true destiny of trying to sell their ideas, along with flowers, at the airport with their fellow cultists, Scientologists and people who believe the CIA is trying to give us all brain cancer with satellites.

What’s the Legal Term for Ass-Whuppin’?

I’m only about two thirds of the way through judge Jones’s ruling in the Dover Panda case, but it’s getting late, and I’ve just downed a celebratory bottle of not quite the cheapest champagne they had at the liquor store, so I’m not really in any shape to make snarky comments. I’ll just present some interesting bits from the ruling, with maybe a one-liner in passing.

The ruling in a nutshell:
p. 63:

After a searching review of the record and applicable case law, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

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The Discovery Institute Weighs In On Dover

A Discovery Institute press release whines:

SEATTLE — “The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea and even to prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate, and it won’t work,” said Dr. John West, Associate Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute

From the decision in the Dover case:

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court.

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Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision

Judge Jones has rendered a decision in the Dover Panda trial.

I haven’t had a chance to read the entire 139-page document yet, but here’s a fragment from p. 64:

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science.


Alexander the Great and Abu Ghraib

Those who do not remember the past, yadda yadda yadda. Will Durant reminds us what war was like in the Assyrian army, in the 18th-7th centuries BC:

The loyalty of the troops was secured by dividing a large part of the spoils among them; their bravery was ensured by the general rule of the Near East that all captives in war might be enslaved or slain. Soldiers were rewarded for every severed head they brought in from the field, so that the aftermath of a victory generally witnessed the wholesale decapitation of fallen foes. Most often the prisoners, who would have consumed much food in a long campaign, and would have constituted a danger and nuisance in the rear, were despatched after the battle; they knelt with their backs to their captors , who beat their heads in with clubs, or cut them off with cutlasses. Scribes stood by to count the number of prisoners taken and killed by each soldier, and apportioned the booty accordingly; the king, if time permitted, presided at the slaughter. The nobles among the defeated were given more special treatment: their ears, noses, hands and feet were sliced off, or they were thrown from high towers, or they and their children were beheaded, or flayed alive, or roasted over a slow fire. No compunction seems to have been felt at this waste of human life; the birth rate would soon make up for it, and meanwhile it relieved the pressure of population upon the means of subsistence. Probably it was in part by their reputation for mercy to prisoners of war that Alexander and C???sar undermined the morale of the enemy, and conquered the Mediterranean world.

— Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, vol. 1, Our Oriental Heritage, p. 271

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Smurfette Explains ID

Smurfette Explains ID

Customer: Hello. I wish to complain about this so-called 'scientific theory'
what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very establishment.

Salesman: Oh yes, 'Intelligent Design'. What, uh... what's wrong with it?

Customer: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. Its vacuous, that's
what's wrong with it!

Salesman: No, no, uh... what we need now is to 'teach the controversy'...

Customer: Look matey, I know an empty 'argument from incredulity' when I see
one, and I'm looking at one right now.

Salesman: No, no, it's not empty: it's just being elaborated. Remarkable
theory, 'Intelligent Design', innit, eh? I mean, just look at all these
books and articles: millions and millions of words...!

Customer: The verbiage don't enter into it, my lad. It's stone dead. It's a
non-starter. Empirically untestable, it belongs in metaphysics. This
'theory' makes no predictions; has no contribution to make beyond extended
polemics; and can't even be honest about who it thinks the 'Designer' was.
Bereft of all logical and epistemological credibility, it has no scientific
status! If certain right-wing and fundamentalist pressure-groups hadn't hit
upon it as a way of opposing decades of uncomfortable scientific and social
progress, it'd be pushing up daisies! It's off the table. It's kicked the
waste-paper bucket. THIS IS A NON-THEORY!

Salesman: Well, I'd better replace it then. [takes a quick peek around]
Sorry, squire: looks like that's all we've got...

Customer: I see, I see. I get the picture.

Salesman: I've got a piece of coal that looks quite a bit like a human
tibia, if you squint at it...

Customer: Pray, is it part of a theory that unifies the paleontological and
biological sciences and leads to a powerful understanding of observed
homologies and the nested hierarchy of life?

Salesman: Not really.

DarkSyde and Time

DarkSyde shows us what the world would look like at different speeds.

If you liked Aron-Ra’s “Who was your great100 grandpa?” article, you’ll love this one.

H.G. Wells’s time traveller only traveled 35 million years. Pah. What a wuss.