Monday, January 10, 2005

Newsflash: The Earth Goes Around the Sun

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Michigan, if you’re curious. I never became a scientist, but I spent a good percentage of my life studying science, and therefore, I get really, REALLY upset when the scientific principles that I hold dear are marginalized by willfully ignorant fools.

There is a great cover story in Salon today about the fundamentalist movement in place in this country that is seeking to eliminate scientific discussion in our schools: The New Monkey Trial by Michelle Goldberg.

For starters, let’s discuss some definitions:

Scientific method: The principles and empirical processes of discovery and demonstration considered characteristic of or necessary for scientific investigation, generally involving the observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis, and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis.

Dogma: A doctrine or a corpus of doctrines relating to matters such as morality and faith, set forth in an authoritative manner by a church.

Do you see the difference? Observation of phenomena. Formulation of a hypothesis. Experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis. And the key – a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis.

You see? You have a hypothesis, you test the hypothesis, if all of your observations validate that hypothesis, it becomes a theory. If your observations contradict the hypothesis, you modify your hypothesis and go looking for evidence again. You can’t have a theory just because you dern thunk it up. Contrast that with religious dogma – someone says something, and you take it as fact despite whatever evidence might be contrary to that position.

So these days, we have people who want to force our public school system to indoctrinate our children with their religious dogma. Good thing those Christian freaks don’t live in India, eh? What would they think if someone was forcing their children to hear about: Thousand-headed Purusha, thousand-eyed, thousand-footed he, having pervaded the earth on all sides, still extends ten fingers beyond it. Purusha alone is all this—whatever has been and whatever is going to be. Further, he is the lord of immortality and also of what grows on account of food... Well, you get the idea. Religious dogma can get pretty weird. Including our own precious Christianity.

Let’s go to the article. You know how when you sit on jury duty, and the judge gives his instructions to the jury? One of the rules is always about when you have two witnesses whose statements conflict, it’s up to the jury to decide which one seems more reasonable; which person makes more sense. In that vein, I’m going to list a bunch of quotes from the article, (particularly from the Creationists), and let you make up your mind, (that is to say, tell you what I think):

"This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution," Buckingham, a stocky, gray-haired man who wears a red, white and blue crucifix pin on his lapel, said at the meeting. "This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such."

Our country was founded on freedom from tyranny, bubs. Yeah, they wanted to practice Christianity, but they left the door open for others to practice other things as well. Even nothing at all, if you like. *gasp*

Speaking to the Times, state Rep. Cynthia Davis seemed to compare opponents of intelligent design to al-Qaida. "It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go," she said. "I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back.”

I missed the part where science went around killing innocent people.

As the cameras rolled, a few protesters tried to edge their way into the frame. A man named Carl Jarboe, in a purple sport coat and a fur hat, stood near the parents holding a fluorescent green sign saying, "ACLU Censors Truth." His wife, wearing a kerchief on her head and small round glasses, held a similar sign saying "Evolution: Unscientific and Untrue. Why Does the ACLU Oppose Schools Giving All the Evidence?"

Um… actually, the only evidence here is being presented by the scientists. You have no evidence for your Creationist scheme other than some book written by a bunch of dudes a few thousand years ago and translated thousands of times by people with a strong interest in getting people to do what they want. Remember all those corrupt popes, for example, who were mostly interested in getting laid, getting rich, and killing as many Muslims as possible? Anyhow, I and the scientific community would be more than thrilled to have an open minded discussion with the facts for and against all of it. Now, you just need to present some.

Jarboe, who introduced himself as a former assistant professor of chemistry at Messiah College, a nearby Christian school, was convinced that the parents were being used by the ACLU to further its sinister agenda. Like a great many members of the Christian right, he sees the ACLU as a subversive, possibly demonic institution. Quoting James Kennedy, an influential Fort Lauderdale televangelist, he called the ACLU the "American Communist United League." "I maintain it's a communist front," he said.

First of all, communists? You’re out of date, dude. Your colleague has moved on and started comparing her political opponents to terrorists. Wake up! Personally, I’m old school, and I still like to go with the Nazis when I’m making vituperative comments, know what I’m saying, Goebbels? Secondly, the ACLU is about civil rights. You remember civil rights, right? The rights of the minority. Right to vote. Right to speak your mind. You know, mundane, boring stuff.

Robert Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology at Penn State. Eckhardt had spoken at the press conference about the central role of evolution in biology. "The idea that intelligent design is a powerful upwelling of controversy within the scientific community is absolute nonsense," he said. Jarboe was unfazed by Eckhardt's expertise; he called him a "screaming leftist unbiblical liberal."

A scientist is supposed to be unbiblical. It’s sorta one of those quirky science things. Perhaps you’ve heard of Galileo? He was a good guy…

The core idea in "Pandas" -- and in the intelligent-design movement generally -- is that of "irreducible complexity," the theory that the structure of proteins and amino acids in cells -- the building blocks of life -- is so complex that only a supernatural force could have choreographed it. "Because of the high level of improbability that cells could be generated by the random mixing of chemicals, some scientists believe that the first cells were created from the design of some outside, intelligent force," the book says.

So there you have it. This is their “theory” – People are complicated, therefore God created us. So, when they’re driving in their car, do they understand everything about their internal combustion engine? And if not, do they think God created it? Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean God created it, and secondly, that’s not evidence!

Evidence: A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment.

You see, the Creationists have what you might call a lack of evidence. They don’t understand the scientific evidence, so they dismiss it as rubbish, and make up something that explains the lack of evidence.

But Buckingham was determined. "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross," he said at the meeting. "Can't someone take a stand for him?"

Objection, your honor! Relevance?

Jeff Brown spoke up in response, saying it was the wrong time and the wrong place for a religious debate. Buckingham called him a coward and said it was a good thing that he wasn't fighting the revolutionary war "because we would still have a queen."

Your honor! Please!

Jonathan Wells, author of the influential intelligent-design book, "Icons of Evolution," has a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from Berkeley and another in religious studies from Yale. A member of the Unification Church whose education was bankrolled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, he's written that he sought his degrees specifically to fight the teaching of evolution. As he put it in an article on the Moonie Web site True Parents, "Father's words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father [Sun Myung Moon] chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle."

Yeah, THAT Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The one who believes himself to be “humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent." The one who had Congress present him with a crown and call him the “King of Peace.” The head of the Moonies. Yeah, that guy. Father? He calls him Father. [insert cuckoo noise here]

"Their current strategy is not to have an intelligent-design policy passed," Matzke said. "They just want a policy that says students should analyze the strengths and weakness of evolution." CSC did not return calls for comment.

Hey, that’s all any scientist wants. But you have to listen as well as talk. Listen to their evidence.

It's not hard for creationists to convince the public that the evidence for evolution is weak. Scientists accept evolution as something very close to fact, but Americans never have. In a November 2004 CBS News/New York Times poll, about evolution, 55 percent of the respondents said that God created humans in their present form. Twenty-seven percent believed in the evolution of man guided by God, and 13 percent believed in evolution without God.

This part really irks me. I can’t believe that I’m in a minority of 13%. Furthermore, I wish this article had the stats for other countries. Countries that support book-lernin'.

Bryan, the nation's leading anti-evolutionist, made his case in populist terms. In his 1993 book "The Creationists," historian Ronald Numbers wrote, "Throughout his political career, Bryan had placed his faith in the common people, and he resented the attempt of a few thousand elitist scientists 'to establish an oligarchy over the forty million American Christians' to dictate what should be taught in the schools."

This past December, Republican strategist Jack Burkman appeared on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" to back creationism in terms of populist democracy. "Why should the state and the federal government have a monopoly on defining what constitutes science?" he asked. "I see no problem with presenting a creationist view in the schools, given that 70 percent of Americans want that. The law should reflect democratic desires. It should reflect public desires."

These, on the other hand, are my favorite quotes. He places his faith in people? HA! So, next time you get on a plane, why don’t you do a vote – and if 50% of the people sitting on the plane think the wings are too big, we’ll have them made smaller. I mean, what do aeronautical engineers know? Fuck them! More than half the people on this plane think it’ll fly with smaller wings, so let’s do it! Better yet – more than half of the country thinks that you, sir, can fly. Why don’t you jump of a tall building? The majority is always right!

The majority of people a few hundred years ago thought the earth was flat. Duh. I mean, it’s trite to even have to argue against the idea of a majority-rules science class.

Despite the law firm's help, though, the lawsuit will likely be financially devastating to the district, the second poorest in the county. Dover would have to pay for lost wages of people called to testify, and it would have to provide outside counsel for some witnesses, like the Browns, who don't want Thomas More representing them. Jeff Brown guessed that depositions alone would cost the district $30,000. Then, if Dover loses, federal civil rights law would make it liable for the ACLU's legal fees. "It won't be cheap," said Witold Walczak, the ACLU's Pennsylvania legal director.

"It will kill us," said Casey Brown. In fact, Dover is already broke. The board had just been forced to cut its library budget almost in half, from $68,000 to $38,000, and to eliminate all field trips.

So how do you like that? In an effort to force their extremist religious agenda upon all of us and our kids, they are bankrupting the school. On the other hand, I’m sure the zealots are pleased that of all things, they’re cutting the library and field trip budgets. Hell, that’s the whipped cream on top for them! This way, the kids won’t get any crazy ideas from those nogoodniks like J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, or Claude Monet. Dodged a bullet there, we wouldn’t want our kids to grow up and not be automatons programmed in our own image.

"It is going full circle now from the religious community ruling what can be thought -- that's what they tried to do in the Middle Ages," he said. "We've come down to the scientific community trying to tell us what we can think. Basically what the scientific community currently is doing is saying, 'You'll have no god before mine. Mine happens to be Darwin.' Any other thought will not be tolerated."

Sigh… You’re the one who refuses to tolerate independent thought. The scientists have all this evidence piled up and they’re plain begging you to read it. You won’t. And frankly, as far as they’re concerned you can believe whatever you want. But if you want to teach a science class, they’d like you to be teaching science. Understand?

Here’s the bottom line, as far as I’m concerned:

"Evolution by natural selection, the central concept of the life's work of Charles Darwin, is a theory," wrote award-winning science author David Quammen in National Geographic. "It's a theory about the origin of adaptation, complexity, and diversity among Earth's living creatures. If you are skeptical by nature, unfamiliar with the terminology of science, and unaware of the overwhelming evidence, you might even be tempted to say that it's 'just' a theory. In the same sense, relativity as described by Albert Einstein is 'just' a theory. The notion that Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa, offered by Copernicus in 1543, is a theory ... Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept it as fact."

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