Creationism dies–at least in Missouri

After the disaster of Tennessee’s science-denying Monkey Bill being signed into law, there has been relatively (and possibly temporary) good news in Oklahoma and Alabama, who did not vote on the anti-science legislation prior to the adjournment of their state legislatures. Of course, they could bring it up again in 2013, but a win is a win.

Yesterday, the Missouri legislature also adjourned, and two antievolution bills died in the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education before getting a hearing. House Bill 1227 would have permitted teachers “to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.” House Bill 1227 would have required “the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design,” both in public elementary and secondary schools and in “any introductory science course taught at any public institution of higher education” in the state. 

Again, to be absolutely clear on the point, there are no “scientific weaknesses” in the fact of evolution. There is some ongoing debate about the mechanisms of evolution, but the basic principle of change in a population of organisms over time by the mechanisms of natural selection and genetic drift is sound and fully accepted by a huge majority (about 99.6%) of scientists. And intelligent design is not science, it is creationism with different clothing. It is pseudoscience.

A win, hopefully permanent, for science education.

via Antievolution legislation dies in Missouri | NCSE.

Creationism legislation–Oklahoma update 5

As discussed before, Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature undertook a last-ditch attempt to push evolution- and climate change-denialism into the Oklahoma educational system.  The two original anti-science bills, HB 1551 and SB 1742, died in committee in March, 2012.  Republican Oklahoma Senator Steve Russell then attempted to amend HB 2341, a bill originally intended to extend by two years a deadline for local school districts to meet standards for media, equipment and textbooks, to add language from HB 1551.  The amendment “encouraged” teachers to present “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of controversial” topics such as biological evolution and global warming.   Continue reading “Creationism legislation–Oklahoma update 5”

Creationism legislation–Oklahoma update 4

There’s good news, modified with a bit of bad news, out of Oklahoma regarding the ongoing Republican legislative push for evolution and climate change denialist opinion to taught instead of real science.  Oklahoma House Bill 1551, which passed the House, died in the Oklahoma Senate, since they were unable to report out of committee in time.  Similarly, Senate Bill 1742 also died in the Oklahoma Senate. Both bills essentially required Oklahoma public schools to teach their students about the “debate” between creation and evolution, and about global warming.   Continue reading “Creationism legislation–Oklahoma update 4”

Religion and global warning denialism

The other day, I was watching some news story about climate change; it was mostly from the denialist point of view, but I was struck by what seemed to be almost the same arguments that the creationist folks say about evolution.  I began to wonder if there was a religious component to the global warming denialists, maybe at the same fundamentalist belief level as the creationists.

While I was digging through the Huffington Post’s Science Section (which publishes story about how homeopathy works or how a bug jumping on a camera lens is obviously a UFO chasing the powerful Chilean Air Force, I noticed a couple of articles by Victor Stenger, a world-renowned particle physicist who writes about scientific skepticism of religion and faith.  It’s possible that I’m too harsh about HuffPo’s general anti-science content, though Stenger only partially makes up for the rest of the anti-science articles on HuffPo. Continue reading “Religion and global warning denialism”

Antiscience legislation updates–Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Tennessee

There’s been lots of news this week regarding anti-evolution legislation.  Republicans in various state legislatures are starting to push their religious agenda in violation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.  Remember, according to the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, teaching religion in public schools is prohibited, and numerous court rulings have clearly stated that creationism is a religious doctrine, not a scientific controversy.  These Republican legislatures are trying to push a full anti-science agenda, forcing school children to think that abiogenesis (the origin of life on Earth), global warming and evolution are somehow scientifically unsound principles.  In the real world, these is no controversy, except with regards to fine-tuning mechanisms, rather than on the broad theory.

Continue reading “Antiscience legislation updates–Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Tennessee”

Creationism legislation–Oklahoma update 3

One of the two anti-evolution and anti-climate change bills, introduced into the Oklahoma legislature earlier this year, died in committee.  The remaining bill, HB1551, was passed by the Oklahoma House Common Education Committee in February, so may be scheduled for a floor vote soon.  The surviving bill is modeled upon the Louisiana Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, which states:

…the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.

Continue reading “Creationism legislation–Oklahoma update 3”

Creationism legislation–Oklahoma update 2

An antievolution Republican Oklahoma legislator has introduced another anti-science bill in Oklahoma House of Representatives.  The bill, if passed by both houses and signed by the governor, encourages teachers to teach the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution” and “global warming”.  This is actually a slight modification to an original bill that was rejected by the House Education Committee last month, but the full house can ignore that vote and vote on it as a whole.

Continue reading “Creationism legislation–Oklahoma update 2”

Intelligent design in 2012

Since the start of the new year there seems to have been concerted effort in several midwest US states, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Indiana, to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution by pushing creationist religious dogma in public schools (though not universities thankfully).  It’s difficult to understand what the goals of this push might be, since nearly all legal precedent supports the fact that creation science, creationism, intelligent design or whatever new term that will be invented is religious doctrine and cannot be taught in public schools.  Maybe Republican state legislators think the winds are at their back in making social change, or maybe they think the winds are shifting into their face, and so they should get moving before the electorate (which seems to be extraordinarily volatile these days) changes its mind again.

Creation science attempts to use science to validate the Genesis story of creation while simultaneously endeavoring to invalidate all the general scientific theories, facts, and paradigms that support the natural history of the universe including evolution, abiogenesis, cosmology, and astrophysics.  Intelligent design (ID) is a slightly different flavor of creationism which states that features of the natural world, whether living things or physical processes, are best explained by an intelligent designer.  In other words, the central mechanism of evolution is not explained by natural selection and genetic drift, but by a designer.  ID also attempts to state that it is a scientific theory based on evidence, rather than a religious dogma based on no evidence.

Neither can be regarded as real science because they fail to meet even the most basic elements of science and the scientific method.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the scientific method is: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”  It’s the “modification of the hypothesis” that separates real science from pseudosciences like creation science and ID.  In other words, if we could falsify the central premise of either so-called theory, would the proponents modify their hypothesis?  That would mean that there is no supernatural being that created or designed the universe, which they are mostly unwilling to do.

On the other hand, real science is open minded about the itself.  It is willing to change its hypotheses and theories, to evolve (couldn’t resist) to new data points.  That is precisely why science is not a religion, but is, in fact, an essential philosophy to understand the natural world.  It is based on evidence, on analysis of that evidence, and, if necessary, modification of theories based on the evidence.  Scientists consider evolution to be a fact based the wealth of evidence supporting it.  The theory of evolution is one of the basic principles of biology (along with genetics, homeostasis, and cell theory), but if there were data that essentially disproved evolution, then science would modify the theory.  There is an old joke that if someone found a rabbit fossil in precambrian rocks, science would probably have to reevaluate and rewrite the theory of evolution.  However, most real scientists would be skeptical and wonder 1) if it really were a fossil, 2) if it were really a rabbit, 3) if it really was a precambrian rock layer, and 4) if it isn’t a hoax perpetrated by someone with an anti-science agenda.

But what is really problematic is that ID itself attempts to promote itself as a scientific theory where the designer is not the Judeo-Christian god.  The Discovery Institute, a Seattle based think-tank, is the primary proponent of ID.  They state that intelligent design is:

Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Through the study and analysis of a system’s components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act. Scientists then seek to find objects which have those same types of informational properties which we commonly know come from intelligence. Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago. 

Setting aside the fact that their so-called science doesn’t meet the basics of what constitutes real science (or the fact that they generally accept the age of life on earth), they go to great lengths to avoid naming the designer.  However, it has been determined that, despite the best efforts of the intelligent design movement, the designer represents the Judeo-Christian god.  Many have concluded that intelligent design is pseudoscience rather than just bad science.

Furthermore, the ID proponents use the so-called “wedge strategy”, a plan sponsored by the Discovery Institute, to further their political goals. The strategy was established in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document, which describes “a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”  In other words, it’s just religious dogma couched in scientific words that have little meaning.

Intelligent design and creation science are not only dangerous to scientific teaching, which is critical to the future of our country.  To continue to be leaders in medicine, research, new technologies, and whatever results from them, the country needs to have students with strong foundation in the sciences.  These anti-science legislators are almost anti-American (to play the “who’s more patriotic” card).  And if you take the long-term view (a rare skill indeed in our politicians), lack of science training could be a huge economic issue (still playing that patriotism card).

This current push for creationist teachings is still centered in one part of the country in just a few states.  Even if its reach is limited, let’s hope it can be crushed out before it gets too much traction in other Republican dominated state legislatures.

Mounting opposition to Indiana’s creationist bill

Mounting opposition to Indiana’s creationist bill | NCSE


Missouri and Oklahoma have been at the forefront of the 2012 Republican push to add anti-science curriculum to public school science curricula in the form of creationism (apparently in the guise of Intelligent design).  These initiatives fly in the face of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US constitution, which simply states,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

Over the years, several court rulings have clarified this clause to cover any public institution, such as publicly funded schools.  The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed lower court rulings that specifically state that the teaching of creationism in public schools violates the Establishment Clause.  In McLean v. Arkansas, the judge ruled that creation science is not science because it depends on a supernatural intervention; in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court affirmed a ruling that a Louisiana law requiring the teaching of “creation science”  was unconstitutional because it advanced a particular religious viewpoint; and in Kitzmiller v. Dover, a district court judge ruled that Intelligent design was another form of creationism (read that as religion).

So despite those very solid legal precedents, Indiana’s Senate Bill 89 will force public schools to teach creation science (which isn’t a science, other than incorrectly using the word science).  Opposition to the bill is starting to appear, including religious individuals who find that creation science is “propounding pseudoscience of their own invention that is neither biblical nor scientific…”

It is ironic (or just plain cynical) that the same individuals who profess that there is some magical quality in the US Constitution are also the first to push laws that are in clear violation of one of the most basic tenets of that same constitution.


Oklahoma bill attacks evolution and climate change

Oklahoma bill attacks evolution and climate change | NCSE.

Not only is the sixth evolution denialist bill proposed by state legislatures since the beginning of the year (which is about 3 weeks long so far), it throws in climate change denialism for good measure.

Josh Brecheen, the sole sponsor of the bill, states that:

“Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors are being ignored. … Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and unacceptable.”

Which renowned scientists?  Are there any?  Almost every scientist (renowned or otherwise) accepts evolution as a virtual fact.  Academic freedom means that a teacher teaches science (or history or whatever the discipline) without interference from government.  So, does the Department of Biology at the University of Oklahoma teach Intelligent design as a scientific theory?  It isn’t.

Glad I live in California.  This stuff just doesn’t happen here.