12/31/2007

ORGANIC, SCHMANIC


Organic sheets? So it contains carbon? Like everything else surrounding me at Target! Marketing is using the term incorrectly.

My son was in a Target store and, recalling an anecdote I tell my students to make a point about organic vs. inorganic, sent me the above photo and caption. Thanks, son!

12/28/2007

UNDER THE WEATHER



Got a confession. I'm under the weather (sore throat). I spent part of my day disassembling Christmas (gosh, that would be a good title for sump'n or udder). Anyway, started feeling lousy. So, to lift my spirits, Tom 'T-Bone' Stankus's all-time classic, for many years in Dr. Demento's annual 'Top 10'.....

12/27/2007

WHO'S RESPONSIBLE?

PZ Mwahaha commends his readers to check out the Buffalo Beast's "50 Most Loathsome List."

It is profane, obscene, brutally funny. And sobering. The part that most struck a chord with me is below. Warning: if any of this applies to you, you'll probably end up concluding that I'm a troubled character rather than engaging in honest self-assessment. And you'll probably want to drop a few zingers at my expense in the comment zone. And then I'll ask you to defend the charge that incites you. You've been warned....

"Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism -- it's nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears' children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you're going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques." You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can't spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don't want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy's doing well. You're an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn't get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn't cover. You deserve it, chump."


To which I would add: You think the Earth is likely less than 10,000 years old. You tell all your friends about Airborne. You regularly check your horoscope because you claim "it's all in good fun". You don't need to know anything about evolution, because it's just a theory. You regard the teaching profession as overpaid and lazy, but when you encounter real working teachers as individuals you tell us how unappreciated we are. You live in a technological society that was created by the application of science, but you not only have no appreciation or understanding of what science is, you regard science education as a competing belief system that wants to undermine all you hold dear.

12/25/2007

SIX DEGREES FROM SCOPES

During the holiday season, many of us who are normally out of touch suddenly are reminded that we are connected to a larger world. With that in mind....


#1 The name of my blog, of course, takes its name from the famous Scopes 'Monkey Trial' of 1925 that forever altered the landscape of science education in the United States, mostly for ill. In this trial, perennial Presidential candidate (and creationist) William Jennings Bryan went head-to-head with noted attorney (and evolutionist) Clarence Darrow in defending the case of John Scopes, a substitute teacher who deliberately provoked Tennessee's law against the teaching of evolution as a publicity stunt on behalf of the ACLU....



#2 This, in turn, inspired Lawrence and Lee's Broadway play Inherit the Wind, which used a fictionalized version of the Bryan/Darrow courtroom duel to explore the implications of public witch hunts in the McCarthy era....




#3 In the original film adaptation of this play, Spencer Tracy is an idealized liberal version of Darrow ("Henry Drummond") and Fredric March is Bryan's succedaneum ("Matthew Brady"). Dick York (shown at right) plays the Scopes stand-in, but as in real life, his character is convicted and draws a modest fine....



#4 Dick York later went on to star for five seasons in one of those weird fantasy sitcoms that were so popular in the 1960's, Bewitched, along with the gorgeous Elizabeth Montgomery. Both co-stars smoked heavily, and York would eventually die from emphysema and lung cancer, while Montgomery succumbed to colon cancer....



#5 Montgomery married her long-time beau, actor Robert Foxworth, while fighting the cancer that claimed her life. Foxworth had a particularly distinguished acting career himself, and narrated a National Geographic special on volcanos entitled 'Ring of Fire' in 1991.....


#6 A later entry in National Geographic's series of videos which covers volcanoes is 2004's 'Forces of Nature', with narration by.......Kevin Bacon....


THE FEAST OF THE INCARNATION


I'm not big on sending out Christmas cards, and many of my skeptical friends tend to withdraw in the holiday season anyway. But I feel like sending holiday greetings near and far to the people who have brought some humor, compassion or thoughtfulness to the blogosphere. And so, here I go, with thanks:

Amanda.


Blake Stacey.


Charles Hatfield.

Glen Davidson.

Greg Laden.

Ian Ramjohn.


James McGrath.

John Wilkins.

Josh Rosenau.


Karl Mogel.


Ken Cope.


Ken Miller.

Kristine Harley.

Lawson Stone.


Madhu Katti.

Mark (Calladus).

Nick Matzke.

PZ Myers.

Rog Lucido and EPATA.


Vera.

Wendee Holtcamp.


Wesley Elsberry.

Zeno.

12/21/2007

CHASTISING THE ARCHBISHOP


The fellow at left is not Santa, but he's drawing some heat for the equivalent of debunking Kris Kringle. Yes, Virginia, a favorite (but anonymous) correspondent has become aroused and forwarded me this lecture from none other than prominent believer (?) Rush Limbaugh:

"The liberal Christians out there, these wacko Christians that are liberal just try my patience. It's that time of year again just before Christmas, when some religious leaders feel the need to explain that the miracles of the Bible never happened, or that the homeless roaming the streets in Buffalo are the modern equivalent of Mary and Joseph. We get the bastardization of the story of the Bible this time of year by liberal Christians. Today's violator, if you will, is no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and what he says is that the star of Bethlehem, the star of Bethlehem "rising and standing still," he said stars "they just don't behave like that." Now, that is the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a man of the cloth, and he said that it's just not possible. Stars don't just stop up there. He also says that "belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a 'hurdle' over which new Christians had to jump before they" can be signed up as Christians. You can be a Christian without believing that. No big deal. I mean, who really thinks that happened anyway? says the Archbishop of Canterbury. Well, a lot of Christians know where his reasoning is going to end up, or where this line of reasoning will take you, because it ends up denying the fundamental basis of Christianity, which is the resurrection. Because if that didn't happen, then the whole thing is in trouble, and if these biblical miracles didn't happen, the star of Bethlehem didn't stop, if there was no virgin birth, then, of course, there probably wasn't a resurrection. In which case, what the hell is the Archbishop of Canterbury doing in the business, if he wants to rewrite it this way?"

Rush goes on to invoke a version of the cosmological / 'fine-tuning' arguments for the existence of something like the supernatural, and thus God, then concludes:

"Whether he knows it or not (and this is the key point here for the Archbishop of Canterbury), his very existence is a miracle, as is all of ours a miracle. That is, it cannot be explained by modern science. By the way, the Archbishop of Canterbury also said the nativity scene is a "legend." Not real, just a legend. So for those of you out there who feel compelled to take some of your Christian beliefs, discard the miracles, and replace them with modern science and thereby invent a new religion, go right ahead -- and if this is what Dr. Rowan Williams wants to do, if he wants to throw out the things in Christianity that he just can't explain in his "superior mind," go ahead, Dr. Williams. But just don't call it Christianity. You are distorting and debasing it. Call it whatever you want. Call it Williamsism. I don't care what you call it, but do not call it Christianity. When you start cherry-picking things that you want, cherry-picking things that your superior mind says you can't possibly accept because stars don't stop; there's no virgin both, and nobody can rise from the dead, fine. Go base your own religion on that; find the flock that you want, but
don't call it Christianity.."

The link above provides context for evaluating this passionate argument, which feeds into the general conservative trope of 'The War on Christmas.'

Hey, I'm sympathetic: I remember a similar irritation when Marvel and DC began exploiting their continuity problems as a justification for reinventing their particular universes. Superman and Reed Richards were temporarily 'killed off' and whole characters were simply trashed in the interest of maintaining market share. Which, frankly, is probably one of the things that motivates the Archbishop. He's not actually arguing against the possibility of miracles so much as he is making a case for the irrelevance of the details of said miracles to the central claims of Christianity---and in so doing hoping to broaden the appeal of Christianity.

Does this seem like a trivial response to this sense of outrage? Well, so be it. I can get irritated when a comic book company monkeys with icons of my childhood, and if there really was an attempt taking place within Christianity to 'kill off' the Nativity and all of the associated legends, I'd be more than irritated, I'd be outraged.....but not because I've placed my faith in the Virgin Birth, or an immovable Star, or Three Wise Men, or in fact on the absolute truth-correspondence of any particular passage of scripture. Christianity does not consist of such details, which make such fine sound bites but which fall far short of what is distinctive about Christianity. After all, other faith traditions have all manner of legends woven into the fabric of their beliefs, some of which are obviously borrowed/evolved from older sources.

Yet, my correspondent seems to say something along these lines: that if you have to so tinker with the original recipe for cake so much that you end up with fig newtons, does it really make sense to call it cake? Isn't it a cookie?

I can't argue against this, because it speaks to what a person is invested in. I think it is important to realize that while historically Christmas is distinguishable from Christianity, in practice most Christians are heavily-invested in whatever Christmas traditions they've been taught, to the point where the legend of the Three Magi is routinely transposed from Epiphany to Advent with all sorts of details treated as 'fact' which actually have no basis in scripture. Ironically, some of the most likely churches to promote this are the evangelical 'mega-churches' that give lip service to Biblical inerrancy, etc.

As for me, I don't have any problem acknowledging either the possibility of miracles or the influence of popular legend in the development of the Christian faith. It is obvious that syncretisms have made their way into Christianity; admitting this, however, doesn't make Christianity more or less relevant. Or true, for that matter.

NAPOLEONS, NOT SO-DYNAMITE



A friend and mentor passed this on to me, and it was too good not to sure. Disclaimer: My wife's nickname ("Pengy") has nothing to do with this excellent take on the film March of the Penguins, which in France was known as Le Marche de L'Empereur....

12/20/2007

FOR ALL MY SKEPTICAL FRIENDS

And they say I can't dance.

12/19/2007

HONEST DOUBT CONTINUES


Over at PZ Mwahaha's, a reader named Observer popped up with a comment in the middle of an exchange related to belief and an interview given by John Haught (shown in the picture at right). Haught's a Catholic theologian who's been an evolution-friendly voice within the pews, someone that I as an advocate for evolution find congenial.

However, a recent interview described at the Apostle Paul's place finds him waxing....vaguely....about vagueness, seemingly the very stereotype of the literal theologian whose torturing of the text manages to elide every drop of supernaturalism out of the old Bibble. It's interesting to watch some of the criticism, and quite a bit of it appears valid on the face of it. Some of it appears less so, and so I have found myself happily embroiled with other Pharyngulans.

But in the middle of all this, Observer writes:

I am enjoying some of your commentary, but until you actually describe what it is you believe, or what it is you believe non-fundie theologians believe, how much farther do expect this conversation to go?

It's a fair question, and I in essence shared a few thoughts about my experience over there and then directed any interested reader to visit me here and look for posts labeled 'Behind The Curtain', and comment, if they so desire. So that's the gist of it, but here's some of the juicy details:

Regular readers of Pharyngula may know that I am a poor spokesman for organized religion, precisely because I tend to regard faith-based claims as not justified by evidence. I'm not sure so much if that's due to any particular intellectual consistency (my critics would say 'no'), or whether it's just an aspect of my personality. At any rate, I would make a very poor sheep.

Some very bright people here have suggested that I might be in the 'pre-atheist' stage. I mull that over quite a bit. Another poster here with a fascinating personal history involving Spiritualism has written rather movingly and persuasively about the capacity for personal self-deception where faith experience is concerned. I think about that quite a bit, especially when I am involved in faith-centered activities. So it would be dishonest of me to pretend that I have the final word, that I am utterly convinced that my own faith experience is entirely valid, and I find much of the discussions here on belief etc. to be valuable and clarifying.

Since I am a guest here, however, I draw the line at either pushing or directly exploring my own personal beliefs in this forum. For those who are interested in such things, for whatever reason, can visit my blog and peruse posts under 'Behind The Curtain', and (if they like) leave comments. I would welcome criticism.

And I would!

12/15/2007

BONDS APRES MITCHELL


Baseball. Steroids. Addiction, and lives destroyed.

I’m a fan of the San Diego Padres, and where the above is concerned I’ve got a few tales to tell, and none of them are pretty. But first, a mea culpa: I’ve never been a Barry Bonds hater, and part of me wishes that the “fans” who’ve been screaming purple murder about the guy since 2002 would just clam up and let the system work. My stand on Bonds has been this: if he’s broken a law, or violated baseball rules, or offends our sense of fair play, then let him take the consequences like a man in the appropriate forum—but, absent any of these things, leave the guy alone and try to enjoy the greatest player of our generation.

Part of me still feels that way. On the other hand, on the heels of the Mitchell Report, I’m wondering if maybe I haven’t seen the forest for the trees. Where steroids were concerned, there were shadows on some other big names were out there (McGwire, Sosa), but by the time their usage became a major story (late 2004) ‘Big Mac’ had been out of the game for three years and Sosa (beaned in the head by Salomon Torres in early 2003) was in severe decline. In contrast, Bonds appeared to improve each year between 2000-2004, winning four consecutive MVP awards. Sure, he hit a record 73 HR in 2001, but it could be argued that Bonds reached his peak as a hitter three years later at the age of 40, hitting .362 with 45 HR and an unprecedented 232 walks.

So, when the odious Jose Canseco finally spun his own misdeeds for cash and further notoriety, it was difficult to put a lot of attention on anyone other than Barry. His historic excellence at his job drew with it a requisite level of scrutiny that was similarly unprecedented, and when McGwire refused to come clean, and Palmeiro was caught red-handed, and Giambi admitted to usage during the BALCO investigation, it was Bonds, BALCO’s most celebrated client, who drew the most attention.

So, with all of that, I was reluctant to join the chorus of those who were for tarring and feathering Barry simply on the basis of a big bat and a big head. Surely, it seemed to me, that whatever Barry had done, the impacts were likely to be minimal. There were all sorts of arguments that fed that: steroids don’t really improve bat speed, there were probably as many pitchers juicing as position players, and at any rate much of the substances employed were not prohibited by baseball at the time. Most glaring was the obvious hatred for Bonds the person. He was despised by many for reasons that had nothing to do with steroids before Canseco’s book forced MLB’s hand, and I still feel that a significant double standard has been applied to Bonds, as far as that goes.

But the Mitchell Report reveals, in great detail, that if anything the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball is worse than any but the most well-connected insiders can imagine. It lays out in stinging detail many unsavory incidents previously not publicized. For example, while with the Indians two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez’s bags were found to contain syringes and anabolic steroids by Canadian border police. More disturbing: Gonzalez was never charged, nor was the matter ever investigated by MLB! Any player in this report who wishes to clear their name can sue MLB if they like, but I suspect we're going to see more apologies like this one from Andy Pettite and more 'explanations' like this one from C.J. Nitkowsi.

12/11/2007

SCHOOL VIOLENCE AND TOXIC BELIEF

It is the measure of the world we live in that my poor wife is always worried that some comment of mine will provoke an unstable student to shoot me, and periodically she tells me to be careful. Shootings on campuses were nearly unheard of forty-odd years ago when the notorious Charles Whitman killed 14 people from the University of Texas bell tower back in 1966. Since that time, there have been a growing number of such cases on high school campuses, with the Columbine shootings having perhaps the most impact in the popular culture. The severity of the problem is greatly exaggerated, however, by what one researcher has termed the Rashomon Effect: high-profile cases have been recounted by so many witnesses in so much detail that it reinforces an impression that such cases are common, or even a growing problem. The evidence suggests otherwise.

Without regard to that, however, much has been made of the fact that some shooters have expressed disbelief in God or hatred of Christians, and the latest such incident (directed at a church) is discussed by conservative Vox Day here, while PZ Mwahaha clearly wants to disassociate himself and his fellow atheists from any culpability, as discussed here.

My view, as one who participates in school lockdown drills and who knows what it's like to be a social misfit, is as follows: yes, the kind of kid who goes ballistic with his classmates or his congregation is likely to express hostility/rejection of religion--but belief systems themselves, even the absence of belief, are not the culprit. The killers in mass shootings are less defined by their beliefs than they are by their targets: they are typically filled with rage over the imagined rejection and humiliation they experienced in their failed attempts to gain acceptance with whatever group, an acceptance to which they felt entitled.

That is why school gun violence is predominantly committed by alienated white males of relatively-high socioeconomic status within their communities, rather than members of minority groups. Don't believe me? Profile the kids who commit these crimes, and you'll see. It's a striking trend, especially when you consider that statistically poor people of color are much more likely to be charged with a firearms-related crime than rich white males---and yet virtually all of the Columbine-type incidents are the latter.

Given these facts, it seems that the role of theism vs. atheism is probably secondary at best. Human beings are social organisms, and traumatic social failure can lead to pathological responses, especially during adolescence. One pathological response is to develop a private belief system defined in terms of one's enemies. This is, of course, toxic belief. Or, in the case of a few (not most) atheists, toxic unbelief. But let's not make the mistake of thinking that latching onto anti-God, anti-church sentiments causes events like Columbine. At worst, all such things do is to provide a secondary justification in the shooter's mind for their rage. Which, ultimately, is really directed at themselves and people like themselves....

12/08/2007

KONTAKTE!



This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Karlheinz Stockhausen (who died on Wednesday, Dec. 5th) was arguably one of the most important composers of serious art music in the second half of the 20th century, and certainly one of the most innovative in terms of his use of electronics and compositional technique. This piece, Kontakte, was finished in 1960 and consists of an electronic tape, piano and percussion. The pitches, dynamics and timbres employed were determined by application of the serial ('twelve-tone') technique first developed by Schoenberg, but then pushed to its logical (and in many ways, musically unfortunate) conclusion by Webern where conventional instruments are concerned.

A word about serial composition: it is a technique that encourages the working-out of an internal logic which can't be experienced via performance, but only yields its' secrets to analysis. In an extreme version, it can be said that a given composition is in a sense reducible to the analysis. If that sounds austere and somewhat removed from your experience, hey, join the club. It's been said that some very smart people can actually identify the particular tone row used where pitches are concerned (Morton Feldman is often cited), but I don't have that facility, and (with the possible exception of one former teacher, now deceased) I don't know anyone else who can do that either. And deducing the mathematical relationships when they are used to derive other things (rhythm, meter, timbre, etc.) is completely hopeless.

Stockhausen's music is more interesting than Webern's, however, in part because of the use of non-conventional sound sources (tape, early synthesizers, controlled feedback or other signal processing), and in part because many of his pieces feature a virtuostic use of solo percussion.

As an example of the former, consider this amazing site, which uses an interactive player resembling an electronic sound module to render sections of his piece Hymnen, which makes music out of manipulations of snippets of radio broadcasts, spoken text, national anthems and bursts of radio 'noise'. You can play with the stereo field and appreciate some of the things Stockhausen did, though if memory serves Hymnen was originally realized in quadrophonic sound.

As an example of his work with percussion, his piece Zyklus has been performed many times precisely because it offers a solo percussionist (such as the amazing Stephen Schick) a highly theatrical platform to demonstrate his/her chops. Check it out if you're interested. This is a guy who exerted an influence on people as diverse as Stravinksy and the Beatles.

FROM THE 70'S: BEACHED



On the one hand, this video that shows ABBA, Olivia Newton-John and the late Andy Gibb fooling around with some Beach Boys songs is an example of a failure in translation. On the other hand, it's totally refreshing to watch people play at making music. Emphasis on slick product and extra-musical concerns have made today's pop a largely humorless affair.

12/07/2007

GOLDEN COMPASS FOUND: MORAL COMPASS CURIOUSLY ABSENT

For those who've been following this as a news item, the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass has hit the screens. This would be a bit of a yawner for me if it weren't for the fact that certain Christians (notably Catholic League head and professional culture warrior Bill Donohue) are making a huge deal of the fact that Pullman (a non-believer) has peopled his imaginary fantasy world with a band of villianous vicars called the Magisterium, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Holy Mother Church.

My friends with CVAAS (Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics) went with some Christians and local ABC-TV news reporter Liz Harrison to check out the action and pretty much the whole crowd reported some disappointment with the film, either in terms of its tone, its difficult-to-follow plot, or both.

I wouldn't mention this at all, though, except for the fact that one young man who has attended one CVAAS meeting reports that the consequences for coming out as a 'non-believer.' His parents suggested that he might want to find another place to live. I'm kind of scratching my head over this one, frankly. If the first response of Christians who encounter doubt within the family group is to put their kid on the street, then how deep, really, is their own faith?

12/06/2007

THE CLASSROOM: WHAT I'VE PUT IN

Teachers have been known to spend their own money on their classrooms. I'm afraid I'm no exception.

I became concerned three years ago about my seven-year-old I-Mac reaching the end of its duty cycle with so much work on it, so when I finally got a permanent room of my own (I spent my first two years in a portable jury-rigged for science instruction), I campaigned for a new computer, and by campaign I mean 'tilting at windmills', because I haven't gotten a lick of support from the district during this time.

But, hey, it's not personal. All of my colleagues have been stonewalled in this area, and things reached a head last year, with many departments routinely calling out the administration on our lack of computers and technical support. Eventually, grant money was found by the district to provide a one-time-only refurbishing of our site----which is in itself absurd, it should be part and parcel of the regular operational cost of the plant.
However, my site, Bullard High, is NOT a Title I school, so that's a revenue stream that we don't have and, as it was explained to me, the revenue stream that at Title I schools in our own district that provides much of the money for new computers, printers, data projectors, etc.

As a result, while my school community has historically had a much-higher socioeconomic status and is routinely perceived (incorrectly) as a 'rich school', the irony is that we have far less monies than schools that are perceived as 'poor' or 'lower-class' etc. Yet, the reality is we could already qualify for Title I right now based upon the percentage of students who take a free lunch, if the numbers can be believed. If that sounds vaguely Orwellian, well, yeah it is: but the fact is, Title I is in part tied to said percentage.

Anyway, the point of this digression is what I've put in. The photos here show a computer, a printer, bookshelves, sound system and DVD/VCR combo player, all of which I've supplied at my own expense.
Believe it or not, I would not kick about any of that if the district would just provide me with an otherwise well-equipped, OSHA-compliant classroom to do the standards-based curriculum they desire.
The problem is that they are manifestly failing to meet that obligation, in my judgement, and I'll post more photos to that effect in the future.

12/04/2007

WHATTA WEEK--BUT IT'S STILL WEDNESDAY

Once again, I've had a wild one this week already!

MONDAY:

I'm the President of the School Site Council this year at my campus, and we actually are charged with some real monies and duties right now, so I've tended to get a sub for my classes on those days and meet with various parties to make sure things go smoothly. The Council's start time also conflicts with 7th (last) period, and I'm a 7th-period instructor. My district has essentially decided to add a 7th period of instruction to accomodate remedial or repeat courses for students who are behind in credits and/or who have failed one or more sections of the CAHSEE.

In other words, it's punitive. The classes are filled with kids with 'two strikes' against them, and they are more challenging to teach as a result. Trying to find a fellow teacher who is willing to cover an additional period under those circumstances is one of those tasks that is best filed under 'Rotsa Ruck.'

So, as a result, I took the teaching day off. After meeting with many of my colleagues in the morning, I spent the mid-day grading tests off-campus, came back to the campus after lunch and then ran the Site Council. I got done with that around 5:00 (keep in mind I was at my school site at 8:30 to personally give my sub instructions). Immediately after that, I drove to Clovis for the third installment of Valley Cafe Scientifique. I'm a member of the steering committee. I glad-handed patrons at the door, introduced a local functionary (a Clovis city councilman) there to show some support for our effort and in general served as MC for the event. The actual presentation, by teaching award-winning plant scientist James Farrar, was excellent, amusing and timely and we had a substantial turnout (60-70 by my count). Time well spent, but by the time I got home, I was so fried I nearly dozed off during Heroes. And of course, as usual, I still had some tests to grade, so....

TUESDAY:

Caught up with my classes, and returned their tests, which had a strongly bimodal score distribution. Rather grim-facedly explained to my three sections of Chemistry that if they were still unable to balance equations after the 14th week of instruction, much less do stoichiometry, then maybe they should reconsider taking Chemistry the second semester, because they are unlikely to pass. This was not exactly a shock, as I had made a point at both the 3rd and 6th week to emphasize that Chemistry, while a standards-based course, was not required for graduation, and was probably best delayed until after successfully completing a full year of Algebra, etc. Still, it was probably my most unpleasant moment in Chem so far, because I would like these kids to succeed and I know that some of them never had a chance to succeed. My school site has gotten in the habit of aggressively placing students in Chemistry as sophomores (and similarly unprepared freshmen in Biology). When I've challenged this practice, it's been explained to me that this increases the possible pool of students who can take AP courses, and that high numbers of students in AP courses leads our school to be highly-rated in some measurements of school achievement.

I take a grim view of that particular tail, wagging this particular dog.

Anyway, did my best to soften the blow and even offered to substitute a higher percentage on the final for this test score, but I made it clear that it was time to either fly or bail out.

(Just to show you that no good deed goes unpunished, I received email the following day from counselors concerned about where these kids who want to bail are going to go?!?! Whatever will we do, Mr. Hatfield, gasp! The obvious suggestion, which is follow the district policy and not place kids who can't do Algebra in Chemistry, will probably not win me any fans.)

During my prep I spent time preparing some data to support my concern that proposed modernization plans for my school site (many of our classrooms are in excess of 40 years old) were scrimping on essential equipment for the classroom. Its' my position that all science classrooms should have all of the essential safety equipment: safety showers, eye washes, hoods. It appears, however, that in an effort to save money the district is attempting to designate some science classrooms as 'chemistry' and others as 'non-chemistry.' This is not only short-sighted, it may well expose them to litigation. So far I've been a bit of a lone wolf on this one: we'll see if I can get some satisfaction with the Committee on-site, but I kind of doubt it. Are they aware that I and other science instructors within the district have been quietly documenting the various ways the district is failing to follow OSHA guidelines? They should pay attention to us, that's for sure, because we are not going away.

Lunch time, spent hosting the DEEP Student Club, which is working on a brief questionairre to draw attention to the club's activities. Discussed and voted on possible questions. Inhaled a Mountain Dew. Truly the lunch of champions, if you call 37 minutes in your own room with a dozen kids a 'lunch break.' Don't mind too much: these kids in DEEP validate my conviction that we can ask high school students the 'big question' without either shredding the Constitution or neutering their impact.

Afternoon, started a new unit on DNA in my above-mentioned Bio classes. Suggested that the students in my 7th period class who aren't working might plan on spending part of the summer making up my class, and that I might very well accept the contract to be THE Biology instructor for summer school. Haven't decided if I'm going to yet, but my goodness, kids, thanks for wanting to spend even MORE time with me, etc.

School ended, I popped into modernization, touched base with the principal, ran off site, had a grilled cheese and a Coke, then back to the library at 5:30 where I tutored kids. It's now 8:30 and I'm locking up, and kicking out this quick little sketch of my last two days. I'm not sure why I think all of this is newsworthy (it isn't), but people often have a dim picture of what a teacher's day is like. So far, between all my commitments, I've worked 30 hours the last two days. If I didn't know teachers, even academics, who are similarly obsessed by work I'd complain. As it is, the bosom of my family calls. Perhaps tomorrow my day will be shorter.

Naah. Tomorrow night (Thursday) I have choir rehearsal until 9:00, which means I'll have to be sure that day not to talk too much. I guess it's all about pacing yourself.

12/02/2007

CHAPMAN'S HOMER, AND DI'S LIES

PZ and company make significant sport of an appearance in Minnesota by historian John West, a shill for the Dishonest Institute. West essentially attempts to put a scholarly veneer on the old "Darwin is responsible for Hitler" trope by focusing attention on the prominent scientists of the past who were enthusiasts for eugenics.

Icky. What about all the non-scientists who were also enthusiasts in what was a popular movement, not one imposed 'top-down' from scientific elites as West implies? Further, albeit non-grammatical cheek: in defense of West's presentation, which is essentially 'one long ad hominem' against biology, DI head honcho Bruce Chapman describes PZ as a "dyspeptic and ad hominem blogger/biologist."

Never mind that Chapman, a lawyer and politician, seems to be confused about the lexical status of the latter, which is a noun, not an adjective---it would be like me describing Chapman as a 'dissipated and ad nauseam blogger/barrister.' I just wonder about the irony of the whole thing: I mean, was it intended, or not? Chapman's a Harvard man, and I'm just a high school biology teacher, but seriously, Bruce, do ya think that maybe, just maybe, that the expression 'dyspeptic' might also qualify as an ad hominem?

As I remarked at PZ's site, you can count on the Disingenuous Institute* to pretty much misrepresent anything that serves their agenda. How doth they mangle the truth? Let us count the ways:

1) (Biology) Evolution is routinely portrayed as entirely the product of chance, or else conflated either with natural selection/abiogenesis, or described as the product of a worldview ("Darwinism"), or based entirely on evidence open to interpretation, etc. etc.

2) (Nature of Science) Scientific practice is routinely conflated with the monotheistic culture in which science emerged ("Christianity's child"), while attempts at delimiting science as practiced from religion are denounced as naturalism/atheism.

3) (Theology) Advocates routinely protest the application of any conclusions about the Designer, to the ludicrous point that they claim that they are not, in effect, proposing a 'God of the gaps' argument. "We're not, we're not! Don't confuse us with facts."

4) (Religious Motivation) The DI routinely asserts that ID is not religious, nor motivated by religion, it's a 'big tent'.

5) (Sociology of Science) There is an enormous CONSPIRACY, dontcha know, to keep critiques of "Darwinism" out of sight, out of mind. Never mind that some of the greatest lights in evolutionary biology (S.J. Gould is a sterling example) made their reputations precisely through such critiques.

6) (Current Events) "We nevah, I repeat nevah encouraged the Dovah School Board to place design in theah curriculum, and the Dovah decision has nothing to do with the validity of ID. Oh, and that conservative Bush-appointed Republican John Jones III, he's a judicial activist..."

7) (Secondary Science Curriculum) Biology textbooks are "laced with Darwinism", are filled with dishonest or misrepresentative 'icons of evolution', says the Rev. J. Wells, who only had to change his name once and schools thrice to acquire (at the expense of the DI and his church) the academic credentials needed to pose as a scientist.

8) (Probability Theory) "For my next trick," says Bill, "I will misappropriate a fellow mathematician's work in this field (NFL theorems), resist all attempts to make the supposed math in my derivations explicit and characterize the source of this imaginary math as an aspect of God's nature. [Didn't get the memo about item #4]

Due to time constraints, this post must end. Point being, why would any of us at this point be surprised that a DI shill who happens to be a historian would misrepresent history, given their track record in other fields?

* For you folk who care about consistency, no, the expression 'Disingenuous Institute' is not an ad hominem. Because, for one thing, it's not addressed to the character of any individual claim or source, but to a population of claims. Secondly, it's true. They ARE disingenuous. All they do is lie, lie and lie some more.

11/29/2007

The FAMOUS (!) Cafe Scientifique


Valley Cafe Scientifique got some well-earned pub from the on-line magazine Fresno Famous. The usual suspects involved with this nefarious attempt to bring the excitement of science to the general public can be observed, up to their usual tricks. Science rocks! Read about it here!

11/27/2007

SEAN TAYLOR

File this under 'God has a lot to answer for.'

The shooting death at home of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor is more than a little mysterious: a world-class athlete is shot in the leg, suffers massive blood loss (and, more than likely, brain damage), clings to life for about half a day before succumbing. Pretty sad, but also hard to wrap your mind around. Really, life is fragile and even an All-Pro specimen like Taylor can be leveraged by a sufficiently unfortunate chain of events. If the bullet had not ruptured his femoral artery, he would almost certainly be alive.

Unless, of course, someone wanted him either dead or unable to play. In which case, they might well have done whatever it took to achieve that. Taylor was a major factor in his club's defense, among the better units in the NFL. You'd hate to think that Taylor's death is anything other than a burglary gone wrong, but it raises major questions.

I'm a Cowboys fan, but of course I take no pleasure in Taylor's passing. He was an outstanding opponent, and his passing hurts me, too: I'm passionate about the Boys, which means I'm passionate about their rivalry with Washington. Win or lose, I can take no satisfaction in Romo and Company scoring against the Skins secondary, because I know that they've been unfairly robbed of a force in their lineup, a teammate and a friend. Rest in peace, Mr. Taylor.

11/26/2007

STENGER INVERTS OCKHAM

There's a nice little kerfuffle going on in the Science Blogs about a piece in the New York Times in which the cosmologist Paul Davies stubs his toe in the philosophy of science. As usual, Wilkins has an excellent analysis, which in this case demonstrates that Davies is guilty of at least two logical errors.


Interestingly enough, Davies is already something of thorn in the side of skeptics for taking the Templeton Foundation's money and endorsing a limited 'fine-tuning' argument in behalf of some vague deism. During the discussion on Pharyngula, a reader brought up an argument by another physicist:

"Victor Stenger at Talk Reason* makes the argument that a single universe runs afoul of Occam's Razor by postulating an arbitrary and unnecessary limit of 1 to the number of universes. That limit itself is the unparsimonious entity. After all, we have the existance of one universe known - more than one isn't multiplying entities, it's repeating a single entity that is known to exist in at least one case..."

To which I say, ha. By extension, the value of 6.67 E -11 for the gravitational constant is also an arbitrary limit. Just because this is among the narrow range of possible values actually observed under experimental conditions shouldn't rule out wildly different values! In other words, I don't think much of Stenger's argument.

After all, we don't posit a limit on the number of entities observed just by the act of observation, and extradordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The claim that there is one universe known to exist is not an extraordinary claim, and is certainly supported by a very large number of claims. The existence of a multiverse is an extraordinary claim for precisely the opposite reason. It is not enough to bask in the beautiful mathematics of another untested notion, string theory, and observe that some versions demand a multiverse. At some point, we need some actual evidence...right?


Maybe the various detectors on the Large Hadron Collider, in the final stages of construction as we speak, will shed some light on the present paucity of data for both string 'theory' and multiverse scenarios. Right now, their main scientific virtue with respect to origins is not that they 'explain' anything, but that they in principle supply a naturalistic redoubt for cosmogenesis. In the meantime, we do have one universe known to exist and we do not need to posit a theological redoubt in order to ask why it has the properties that it does.
Davies goes too far in equating the axioms of science with the dogma of faith, but that says nothing about the utility of the anthropic principle or the apparent 'fine tuning' of certain parameters. Scientists should be free to propose testable hypotheses drawn from different metaphysical axioms, as long as they test them and let the chips fall where they may.

* I should point out that Stenger's article is a good read, well worth a person's time, and it has a lot more in it than just the argument I reference above. For the record, the link takes one to a PDF file, and one can find Stenger's discussion of parsimony with reference to multiverse scenarios beginning on page 17.

CURRENTLY STUCK IN MY HEAD....



Best Song About A Night Lite. Evah!

VACATION HIGHLIGHTS

There is a reason why Pharyngula is the most-read science blog in the Internet, and it is the fact that PZ Myers, the owner of said blog, is incredibly resourceful and prolific when it comes to posting material. During this last week, when many of us were off for days at a time, he managed to post 6-8 items per day.

Me? My brother and his family visited, and not only did I understandably choose to spend time with them, he and his wife bedded down in my studio where my computer is. It just wasn't the time or place. Well, sadly, vacation's over and my brother's gone back to SoCal, and so I can blog again. The latter is a silver lining, I suppose, to the grey cloud of routine revived. So, for those of you who have been regularly checking the blog for updates this last week and seeing nothing, order is about to be restored.

Let me tell you what I've been up to in my blogging absence, however:

  • A week ago I participated in Fresno Metro Ministries annual Thanksgiving concert, which is an interfaith event. There was a humdinger (sorry) of a bell choir performance from our host, Hope Lutheran. There was a jazz-inflected guitar/flute duo from Temple Beth Israel. There was, for lack of a better phrase, a sort of Hispanic Van Trapp Family Singers, doing a fully-electrified Santanaesque version of a 'praise song' in Spanish. There was a trio performing Sikh meditation music (involving a tabla player, chanting, and a pair of reed organs). There was a Muslim father and son who recited the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. And so on and so forth, a marvelous demonstration of the community's diversity. . .
  • On Monday morning, I went out to my aging father-in-law's spread in Sanger and (following his instructions) tore up an old concrete sidewalk to identify the source of a pipe lead that was flooding his backyard. This involved a 20-pound piece of steel that looked like a bobby pin from Land of the Giants. Owch. I got down on my hands and knees to remove the busted fitting with a pair of 5-pound pipe wrenches, which of necessity had to be rotated below ground level. More pain, but eventually the leak was capped and the hole filled.
  • On Monday afternoon, I made it back to town, cleaned up and had a recording session with two female background singers at Maximus. This was the latest in a series of sessions that have now run over a year for my CD project.
  • On Tuesday, frantically cleaned house not only to prepare for company but to make it suitable for prospective buyers to see (my wife is itching to find a house with a larger kitchen--rotsa ruck in this market). Also, that evening held choir rehearsal early in the week since our regularly-scheduled rehearsal time would fall on Thanksgiving.
  • On Wednesday, picked up my son from college so he could enjoy a brief visit with his uncle tonight and tomorrow before heading off to Sacramento to celebrate Thanskgiving with his girlfriend's family. Also, began hauling down Christmas decorations from the attic. Our neighbourhood, incredibly, was not only featured in the local paper as one known for its decor but the rumor is now being circulated that the block might be featured on 'Good Morning America.' Good grief, talk about keeping up with the Jones's!
  • Thanksgiving: I did my best to burn breakfast, knowing my wife was lumbered with the turkey later in the day, which was frankly tremendous. Macy's parade, my Cowboys took it to the Jets to improve to 10-1, and of course the eventual tryptophan-laced bacchanal. My brother's family loves board games, so by the time the late NFL game ran its course, we were up to our elbows in dice and discard piles. My nephews ganged up on me, when seems par for the course. My wife, who had worked much of the day, retreated early to the bedroom but I stayed up well past midnight.
  • Friday-Saturday-Sunday: Played. Procrastinated. Climbed (owch) up on the roof and set up icicles. Worked my tail off, and have the cuts, scrapes and general aches and pains that you might expect. I wish I could say my yard is ready, but if you saw my neighbours....anyway, bade farewell to my brother and his family on Saturday evening in the midst of all of this, and then (regretfully) turned to this blog....and all the other things that will have to be tackled when I return to the classroom.....

11/17/2007

INSPIRED BY DOVER


Nick Matzke provides us with this link over at The Panda's Thumb.


If the shirt's sentiments mystify you, by all means, read on. What the shirt lampoons is the existence of a 'transitional form' betraying the religious origins of the intelligent-design-friendly textbook Of Pandas and People, shown below:

Drafts of this text prior to the 1987 Edwards vs. Aguillard case identified advocates of such as creationists, whereas the published version makes no mention of creationism and instead refer to advocates of the book's viewpoint as 'design proponents.'
Hmmm. The former would be a definite no-no today, and both a legal and PR blunder: legal, because the above case established that it was unconstitutional to insert 'creation science' or 'creationism' into a public-school science classroom; PR, because one of the recurring tropes of the Discovery Institute (the main body pushing 'intelligent design' in the political arena) is that 'ID is not creationism.' Prior to the Dover case, DI spokespeople did everything they could to push that as the party line.

Unfortunately for such ID-evotees, during the Dover trial analysis of drafts after 1987 but prior to publication revealed that the authors of Pandas had pretty much cut out every reference to creationism and simply relabeled it 'intelligent design.' The smoking gun, identified by philosopher Barbara Forrest, was the identification of 'cdesign proponentsists' in one of the intermediary drafts, where the phrase 'design proponents" had been inexpertly inserted into the original 'creationists.' Some more of her investigative prowess is featured in the book at right.

Truly, a transitional form to celebrate! Lest we forget, however, that both the 1st (1989) and 2nd (1993) edition of Pandas claimed that there was an absence of transitional forms, citing as their example the transition from land mammals to modern whales predicted by Darwin back in 1859. How delicious, then, that a well-described sequence of fossils demonstrating the transition became well-known during the mid-1990's, as discussed in detail here and celebrated here.

How ironic that this particular claim from Pandas, in itself a legitimate scientific hypothesis, has been falsified against the Panda author's expectations, while the sub-text of Panda's 'creation' has been proven in court to be religious in origin, and thus not science in any way!

INDEXING PAIN...?

It pains me to say that I've only just now stumbled upon this meditation on pain, and how to categorize it. Fascinating stuff, and I'm going to have to research some of the peppers myself! Explore the links!

LOL CREASHUNZ THREAD



Viewable here, without apologies to Ken Ham or AIG.

DM OF THE RINGS

I never got into RPG much, neither in person or on-line. Why? Who knows? Perhaps because when I was young I was very consciously engaged in what used to be called PLAY. Still, I have a lot of friends who will probably appreciate this eccentric web-comic.....not to mention one very smart comics scholar of a brother.

11/16/2007

THE DISAPPOINTING INSTITUTE

I cross-posted this over at PZ's place:

"Saying that the Discovery Institute is spreading misinformation is like saying that evolutionary biologists are spreading evolution. The DI is misinformation personified, and I think the best way to deal with them is not to dwell on their arguments, but to mock them for the lack of political effectiveness. They've produced no legislation, no reforms and their veiled threats to sue educators are clearly positioning statements with no real substance.

They are the Disappointing Institute, and we should focus on their failure to advance their own political agenda. That hurts the lawyers and the politicians a lot worse that arguing about 'dissents with Darwinism'. When we argue science with a bunch of non-scientists, it gives them a patina of respectability. We tend to lose PR points when that happens, unless our scientists are also skilled at the lawyerly reply. On the other hand, should non-lawyers focus on DI's failures to advance their own legal and political agenda, this will tend to undercut their effectiveness in general without ever putting the science up for (usually dubious) 'debate.' The stock question should not be 'what's the science?' but rather, 'why should DI, largely a bunch of lawyers, even be regarded as credible on scientific matters when they can't gain any traction in the courts or the legislature?"

My apologies in advance for our friends in the legal and political spheres who are effective, dedicated, ethical and supportive of science education."

11/14/2007

I DON'T CARE.... IF YOU GOT PINK HAIR!



The 'Bishop of Soul', Mr. Solomon Burke, works the crowd from a throne. Stick around to the end, when he appears to be channeling more than the Paraclete. Theatrical, and compelling in a goofy way that's hard to explain.

11/13/2007

FIRST AMENDMENT ALERT!

According to the Discovery Institute, an informational packet distributed by PBS to accompany the Nova documentary "Judgement Day" encourages teachers to violate the Establishment Clause. Why, the author Robert Crowther says that DI "has enlisted over a dozen attorneys and legal scholars....to review the PBS teaching guide with an eye to its constitutionality."

Review away, you clowns. I look forward to your definitive opinion on said subject, and on the day when you pinheads finally declare same unconstitutional I'm going to make it my business to make sure said informational packet is used in my high school science classroom.

And, while I'm at it, I'll make sure to let YOU know I'm doing it. At the same time, I will cheerfully forward you the names of some local creationists who sympathize with your windmill-tilting and dare them to call your little First Amendment bluff, friend of the court and all that. Oh, and I'll publicly contact the media, etc. etc. so EVERYONE I know will know what I'm doing, and that I'm calling ALL of you out and DARING you to sue me.

Because, you know, as Dover proved, you don't have the stomach for a court battle you know you will lose. And, when your veiled threats are shown to be just another exercise in playing lawyer, I will cheerfully mock your empty suits. I double dog dare ya!

11/10/2007

CONVERSATIONS ABOUT BELIEF

There is a fascinating exchange between a professor of theology (and sometime poster-to-this-blog) and a non-believer in the comments here. It's notable for its' lack of rancor, its' depth and the way that both parties appear to be actually listening to each other. This is the sort of conversation (as opposed to conversion) that I wish I and others could experience in our own lives.

WHY DOES THE SUN SHINE?



Hey, I'm teaching Bio and Chem right now but this makes me want to teach Earch Science again!

Cool cover of Tom Glazer's 1959 song by those perennial alt-darlings They Might Be Giants, and illustrated with lots of cool pictures and animations by Killer Rabbit 2006.

DEEP MEETS JEFF ZWEERINK


As some of you who follow my musings may have noticed, I'm sponsoring a student club at my school site called DEEP.

DEEP doesn't stand for anything in particular, but it sounded sufficiently short and mysterious that it could be a 'hook' for student interest. The purpose of DEEP is a little mushy: as a student-led organization, it's free to look at what it wants, to a large extent, untrammeled by the interests of adults and their institutions. However, in general, DEEP is a place where students can consider ideas and issues from philosophy and religion that are off the well-worn curricular track due to their esoteric or controversial nature.

Anyway, DEEP had its first 'field trip.' As it so happens, an organization I'm affiliated with, the Fresno chapter of Reasons To Believe, sponsored this earnest-looking young astrophysicist shown at right (Jeff Zweerink) in a recent appearance at CSU Fresno. The Fresno Bee described the event and Dr. Zweerink's other appearances in our neck of the woods in this article, which amounts to rubber-stamping an RTB press release. As the event was (happily) free, the total outlay for this field trip was gas and pizza, and (with some other adults in tow as chaperones/drivers) I took 12 students to the event. Of course, as you might imagine, this was a throughly Christian event: RTB is an old-earth creationist outfit founded by the astronomer and evangelical Christian Hugh Ross, and the event was co-sponsored by Campus Youth for Christ (CYC).

So, I shouldn't have been disappointed to realize pretty quick that the presentation had a lot more to do with the Bible (particularly RTB's interpretation of Biblical cosmology) than with science. My students picked up on the fact that Zweerink appeared to be rushing through his talk, and that there wasn't a lot of scientific 'meat' to the presentation. That was a little surprising for me, as RTB is very fond of introducing 'fine-tuning' arguments to buttress their claim that the 'cosmogenesis' of the 'Big Bang' is mappable to the Biblical Genesis. These arguments usually have to spend a certain amount of time explaining one or more of the constants that are supposedly 'fine tuned', often with some dramatic set of numbers that supposedly demonstrate the improbability of it all.

There was little of that, however. I've attended many presentations at RTB chapter meetings that provided far more scientific details than Dr. Zweerink's talk, and I have to wonder if the talk wasn't (ahem) 'fine-tuned' to suit the campus outreach agenda of CYC.

If that was the case, it didn't really work. There wasn't that much science in the presentation, but neither was there a firm commitment to the sort of 'my way or the highway' approach that many believers seem to crave. Dr. Zweerink often went out of his way to point out the limits of the sort of claims that RTB makes, and to note that RTB was willing to put its model on the table and compare its predictions with those of other models. This was definitely a bone for those of us who care about science and are turned off by any attempt to present models in science as 'revealed truth.' At the same time, I sensed that many of the 'true believers' in attendance were puzzled by this measured approach. They came looking for certainty, and they got a certain amount of fuzziness instead.

For what it's worth, I think Zweerink and other RTB spokespeople really do want to present a testable model. I've observed, for example, that Hugh Ross's model for human evolution has (ahem) evolved as new data has emerged, so they are making an attempt to keep up with the science. They sincerely want to have scientific integrity in what they do: however, many of them are fuzzy on the concept of what being testable may or may not prove. It is not enough to claim (correctly) that the 'Big Bang' and other details from astronomy are mappable to a transcendent creation, or (more controversially) that Bible verses as interpreted by Ross describe an expanding universe. One must show that other explanations are less probable, or (failing that) how the addition of a supernatural gloss adds anything to a scientific model that presumes natural causes. That would be an interesting (and likely fruitful) line of inquiry, but, for whatever reason, Dr. Zweerink didn't address that.

It will be interesting to sample the students who attended and get their impressions on this event sometime in the future. If they agree, I may share their reactions to the event in a future post.

11/07/2007

THE BOY'S NEW HOBBY


My son is trying his hand at, of all things, bonsai. This is a picture of a work in progress (a ficus) that he took with his cell phone. Given my bad luck with pets of late, I may have to take an interest in gardening as well. Or, with apologies to Barnes and Barnes, give my heart to Fishheads. Don't click on the link if you like normal. You've been warned, that's all I'm sayin'.

11/05/2007

CAFE SCIENTI-FULL!


Well, our second Cafe Scientifique event drew such a big crowd the bistro couldn't hold us all. We're going to have to look at expanding, apparently, as the above picture shows.

Cafe Scientifique? No, I think we got the Cafe Scientif-FUNK!

11/04/2007

GLOBAL QUESTION

The temperature of a crater lake above a slumbering volcano in Indonesia is rising at an alarming rate, possibly presaging a major eruption.

The location of the volcano (Mount Kalud) is shown on the map at right.

Below, I show a map of earthquakes in that region of the world over the last week (data: USGS, available here) with areas experiencing quakes in excess of 5 on the Richter scale shown as red squares. Just food for thought. . . .

LOCAL DRAMA


More than one hundred cars were involved in a pileup in my neck of the woods, on CA Hwy 99. I've traveled this stretch many times (though rarely in the Tule fog that often floods the Valley in the winder months---I know my limitations).

Anyway, I'm posting this so no one will be worried. The Hatfield clan was not involved, neither were any friends or colleagues that I'm aware of.

11/03/2007

EVIDENCE AND TRUTH

I posted this over at Vox Day's site and decided it was worth repeating here, as well, because I find that much of the problems in discussing evolution have to do with the failure of my critics to understand the nature of science.   This is not a post about God's existence per se, just a discussion of why science can't say much about such claims. . . .


Evidence is not the truth, with a capital 'T', but simply observations reported by (we hope) competent observers.  The more rigorous the observation, the more times said observation is replicated, the more confidence we have in that observation and so we tend to refer to such-and-such an observation as 'true.'

Do people sincerely report religious experiences?   Indeed they appear to do so, so the fact that people report religious experiences is a phenomena that requires explanation, a phenomena that can be reasonably described as 'true.'

We reserve the right, however, to revise or reject such claims based on improved data, so these kinds of claims are never Truth with a capital 'T', the sort of eternal truths sought through philosophy or religion.

Because of this, scientists are not in the 'truth business.'  We are in the model-building and model-testing business.  When a model seems to do an especially good job of describing, explaining and predicting many phenomena we have the tendency to call such a model a 'theory', as opposed to a mere 'hypothesis.'  But we never claim that theories are Truths.

Now, the problem from this standpoint with claims such as the existence of God is not that they may or may not be true, or that the existence of God is an eternal Truth, etc.  The problem is that we can't ever move that hypothesis to the 'theory' stage because we can' test its ability to describe, explain or predict phenomena.  The God Hypothesis that fails a particular test can always be 'resurrected' by amending it with claims about God's intent, God's nature or the invocation of the supernatural.  It is not the possibility of the supernatural's  existence that scandalizes the naturalist, but the fact that within science we have no procedure to test the evidential basis of supernatural claims.

We therefore exclude them without attempting to rule one way or the other on the claim.  The best we can do is check out the testable consequences of such claims, whether or not the hypothesis produces the (natural) phenomena that is expected.