An elegiacal tone emanates from the Bay Area, where most of Barry Bonds' vocal supporters over the last few seasons reside, at the announcement that the Giants organization has elected not to bring the slugger back in 2008. This writer is not a Giants fan by any means (Pads all the way, baby), but I am a pretty passionate about baseball. And I have this to say to other baseball fans...

Leave. Barry. Alone.

If he's broken a law, and he's convicted, let him take the consequences like a man. Ty Cobb assaulted (beat the crap out of, actually) a fan in the stands who had no legs, was never charged, and he's in the Hall.

If he hasn't broken the law, but it is eventually determined he violated baseball rules, let him be punished by Major League Baseball, and (again) take his consequences like a man. There are many, many cheaters in the Hall.

If neither of these conditions obtain, but his conduct just violates your sense of fair play, then let the BBWAA determine whether this should effect his entrance into Cooperstown. And, should he be denied, let him take his consequences like a man. There are many who have good cases for enshrinement (Shoeless Joe Jackson, and---ugh---Pete Rose) who are nevertheless on the outside, looking in.

In the meantime, I say, as long as Barry wants to play, try to enjoy it. Me, I hope he plays forever. He's the greatest hitter of my generation, and some of my generation needs to grow up and appreciate Bonds for what he is. There's no rule that says that the greatest hitter has to be great with the fans, accessible to the writers, etc. What would you be like if your old man was an alcoholic, often gone for much of your youth, and (let's be honest) the victim of racism? Who could've predicted that this sensitive, skinny kid with a chip on his shoulder would end up chasing 800 homers? I hope he buries the record.


I get letters and other unsolicited materials all the time from sincere creationists who think that if they can just get this or that source into my hands that I’ll suddenly see that the Bible really is a science textbook and that my defense of science education is misguided. This one’s a new one on me, though: the Bible, apparently, is also a math text, and the fellow who makes this claim is also, intriguingly, something of an expert when it comes to the statistical analysis of one of my passions....baseball! Weird, huh?

Anyway, the author, one Dr. Marvin L. Bittinger, seems to be quite an interesting fellow. Bittinger:

  • is a retired professor mathematics education at Purdue University
He has a web site for his book here. The book in question (“The Faith Equation”) was marketed to me with a letter signed by one Bryan Gambrel, who professes to be the Marketing Director of Literary Architects. They can be found on the web here. The letter I received carried an endorsement from the creationist engineering professor (Baylor) Walter Bradley, and also from pop psychology guru M. Scott Peck, who writes (amusingly) that Bittinger’s book is “the kind of wacky genius one is lucky enough to encounter but a few occasions during his or her lifetime.”

(Less amusing is the fact that M. Scott Peck has been dead nearly two years as I write this, and the book in question was only published in July of this year. So, presumably, he commended a draft of the present work but might not have actually approved the work as published. It's border-line dishonest to enlist the dead post facto as a positive 'review' of an unpublished work, and obviously seeks to trade on Peck's modest celebrity)

I can't add more to that, but I bet a lot of you (particularly Zeno, or Jason Rosenhouse) can, and will.


There's been a lot of discussion about the gaffe in which new View co-host Sherri Shepherd, in the middle of expressing her disbelief of evolution, made it sound as if she didn't know whether or not the Earth is, um, flat:

The following day, the panelists all made nice-nice and hugged each other. "I had a brain fart," Sherri said. "I made a bad face," said Whoopi. All is forgiven, apparently.

Well….here’s the thing. The View is supposed to connect with a wide audience, mostly female, many of them wives and mothers. It’s primary reason for being is to provide an alternative to the highly-competitive, male-dominated ‘talking heads’ on the other networks who usually talk past each other with scripted positions rather than listen. So far, so good.

But facts are fact. Evolution happened, and to say otherwise is to invite questions about basic matters of fact. If you aren’t prepared to address basic matters of fact, you shouldn’t expect to get a ‘do-over’ and hugs of support from the scientific community. Her ignorance on this topic is unsurprising, but the willingness of her fellow panelists and the program’s View-ership to accept ignorance as a matter of personal belief is insulting to those of us who actually care about science education.


Previously, I proposed that the nature of certain kinds of belief (such as religious belief) is the introduction of an element of fantasy. I then asked, ‘does the introduction of this element render religious belief incoherent?”

My short answer was ‘yes’. Now a discussion of what I think that answer means!

Faith uses the element of imagination, of human fantasy, in part to either plug gaps in our understanding or to assert that the path of faith will eventually lead to the bridging of that gap. As the old Charles Tindley gospel song says, ‘We’ll understand it better by and by.” There is definitely a lack of present coherence, with (at best) a promise of future coherence. In the meantime, not only do religious belief systems fail to provide all the answers desired, we have to acknowledge that the mental models (‘fantasies’) proposed by believers to plug the gaps in our understanding are always inadequate in some way.

So, I conclude that in this sense religious belief fails to cohere with the rest of our human experience: the introduction of fantasy on the part of the believer never succeeds in making faith externally coherent, that is, coherent with reality. Two possible objections or qualifications immediately come to mind, however: one from the Christian, and one from a philosopher of science.

The Christian would doubtless respond that this incoherence is a product of human frailty, and one acknowledged in the scripture and traditions of her faith. She would point to Yahweh’s dialogue with Job, and such statements as:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts. (Isa. 55:8-9)

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (Prov. 16:33)

For we know in part: and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then I shall know even as I am known. (I Cor. 13: 9-12) *

The philosopher of science, on the other hand, might demur that the observation of external incoherence applies to models of all sorts, not just those held on faith.

In his remarkable book Cosmogenesis: The Growth of Order in the Universe, the astronomer David Layzer observes that there are ‘four great divisions of the natural sciences: quantum physics, cosmology, biology and macroscopic physics.” All of them, he writes, have unresolved problems within their domains. He goes on to note, however that “another kind of incompleteness in natural science’s picture of the world has received less attention: the four great pieces of the picture don’t quite fit together. Each piece, although still incomplete, is remarkably coherent. Each piece is connected to the other pieces. But the connections aren’t smooth. There are deep unresolved conflicts between quantum physics and macroscopic physics, between macroscopic physics and cosmology, and between the physical sciences and biology.”

So, from this standpoint the acknowledgement of external incoherence, or (if you like) incoherence between domains is neither inconsistent with Christian tradition nor an argument for or against Christianity itself.

Still, a gnawing doubt remains. What about the role of human fantasy in maintaining the internal coherence of belief systems in general, and in maintaining an individual’s faith in particular? That will be the topic of my next post!

*The skeptic is not going to be that impressed by these references: the acknowledgement of human frailty does not demonstrate either the inspiration of scripture or the correctness of the Christian faith.



Not complaining, mind---I appreciate all visitors and comments----but it is interesting that I don't get much of a traffic spike when I'm focused on science and education, but my hits triple as soon as there's hint of some kind of religious question, even those unrelated to my little tete-a-tete with the 'notorious' Vox.

Maybe I should include a few teen diva posts and see what happens, just as an experiment. In fact, let's do this now: Darwin's evolutionary theory makes no predictions about Lindsday Lohan. Or Britney Spears. Or my Aunt Fanny. But Britney's troubles, and Lindsay's rehab, and (oh, what the hell) Ana Nicole's death and the fascination they seem to hold for us might, just might, be explicable in evolutionary terms. At least, so says Robin Dunbar.



Vox begins his most recent response with a sort of general comment that refers to a JAMA study concerning the lack of replication in published research regarding alleged linkages between ‘gender and genes’. Vox has previously posted about this here, and the original citation he refers to is a Wall Street Journal gloss of the study in question, still available here.

I’m not too impressed. I think Vox either misreads or overstates the gravity of the situation described, both in terms of the culture of science and the applicability of these findings, and I’ll provide my reasons for both of those claims.

First, from the standpoint of the culture of science, Vox fails to place the research criticized in the JAMA study in the proper context. What is the risk here to the actual conduct of science? Surely Vox doesn’t mean to imply that poorly-designed research reported in isolated journal articles will somehow lead to something fundamentally amiss in the present paradigm. They are merely findings presented in some provisional context—if not, they wouldn’t have seen the light of day, poor design or no. Without replication, none of the results described are going to end up in the textbooks as facts that residents in reproductive medicine are going to be held responsible for, much less first-year biology students. The real danger is not that some false dogma might arise, but that time and energy might be squandered on a poorly-conceptualized research program.

One could argue that the WSJ article reference by Vox is evidence that the danger is greater than I am suggesting, that maybe there is some major crisis of confidence brewing in science. Sorry, but I don’t think that counter-argument will wash, either, because the WSJ article also fails to place the JAMA study in the proper context.

That study, which raises methodological questions about how well peer review is excluding poorly-conceptualized research may be novel enough that it merits attention in the mind of some WSJ staff writer, but it is hardly revolutionary. Vox seems to think that he has stumbled on some stunning new finding when he trumpets his ‘skepticism about the current state of science’ in light of these findings. Ho ho! ‘Skepticism about the current state of science’, as far as I can see, is the default position amongst workers in the field. I have fond memories of a graduate seminar in biogeography that I was privileged to participate in a few months back, wherein we would read papers in the literature and (surprisingly often) raise questions about the assumptions and potential flaws in the protocols described. The students did this routinely, and with no sense of scandal. The periodic reevaluation of scientific practice is normal, part and parcel of the brutal competition of ideas that is how science is supposed to be done. The AAAS, for example, is currently investing significant energy in revisiting the peer review process, which is looking increasingly dysfunctional and creaky in this Internet age.*

What about the applicability of the findings? I think Vox stumbles here as well. Can we justify a general skepticism toward all scientific generalizations, given that peer review is up for review itself? Again, context suggests otherwise. Let’s not confuse this or that finding from cutting-edge research in this or that specialized topic with the sort of broad, powerful and well-tested models in which this work might’ve been nested. Surely Vox is not arguing that because specific replicable linkages between gender and genes seem hard to come by in the research in question, that such things as ‘gender’ or ‘genes’ do not exist, or that no relationship at all obtains between them. In fact, I would predict that a likely flaw in many of the articles is a failure to properly characterize that relationship!

Finally, what bearing does this argument actually have on the question of whether TENS is or isn’t the best scientific model for the diversity of life? None that I can see. This is just an attempt by Vox to buttress what is by his own admission an ‘intuition’ about evolutionary theory. To me, Vox’s opening salvo in his most recent post can be paraphrased as follows: “Scientists make mistakes, as in this case, so I feel justified in remaining skeptical about evolutionary theory.”

Of course, there’s more to Vox’s post than that, and I’ll reply as I have time.

* = A recent summary of AAAS-sponsored work in this regard can be found in the July 15th issue of Science, which can be accessed with a subscription on-line here.



Previously, I proposed that the nature of certain kinds of belief (such as religious belief) is the introduction of an element of fantasy. I then asked, ‘does this place religious belief beyond the bounds of scientific inquiry?’

My short answer was ‘not necessarily, it depends on what we mean.’ Now for a longish discussion!

The first thing we have to do is distinguish between supernatural claims put forward by believers and the (alleged) consequences of those claims. Consider the following claim: “Genesis is a literal account of how the world was created by a supernatural being, Yahweh.” This turns out to be really difficult for science to directly investigate. The clause ‘supernatural being’ is, in essence, a conceptual ‘poison pill’ for the scientist who defines the natural world as the subject of scientific investigation. No matter what evidence the scientist adduces that contradicts the first part of the claim (‘Genesis is a literal account of how the world was created’), the believer has an ‘out’: Yahweh’s supernatural, and so Yahweh’s actions don’t have to follow natural law, and so evidence from the natural world can’t be used to ‘disprove’ either Yahweh’s existence or action. The claim has the curious property of being immune to disproof based on any evidence a scientist could present! As Karl Popper (the sage-looking gentleman on the right) would have said, it is non-falsifiable.

But what about the alleged consequences of that claim? If the Genesis account is held to be literally true, then a host of consequences should follow, consequences in the natural world that are subject to scientific inquiry. And the fact is, a host of alleged consequences of this particular claim have been falsified. Plants didn’t appear on the third day, and then the stars on the fourth day. The heavens and the oceans that surround the dry land aren’t both made of water. Birds don’t appear on earth before cattle. Most importantly, overwhelming evidence contradicts the claim of a 6-day creation. *

Now, does this demonstrate that there is no supernatural being, Yahweh? Not at all, but it does demonstrate that the world revealed by scientific investigation is not consistent with the consequences of the claim of Genesis being ‘a literal account of how the world was created.’ Given sufficient evidence contra the consequences, an intelligent person is free to reject the claim on the absence of any positive evidence in behalf of the claim.

I might add that similar results are associated with most (though not all) supernatural claims, and that in general when we seek confirmation in the natural world of the consequences of supernatural claims we are likely to be disappointed.

Also, while I haven't made this explicit, the distinction between claims and consequences is related to questions about domains. S.J. Gould memorably attempted to define science and religion as 'non-overlapping magisteria' (NOMA). I'm not enamored of NOMA myself; as I think I've demonstrated, there is an area in which they overlap, which is the consequences of claims. Interestingly enough, many IDevotees think so, too, though in their case it's what they feel is an unwarranted intrusion in 'morality and metaphysics.' Hence the diagram below:

Granted that while we can never falsify some supernatural claims, they can in fact be so vitiated by their failure to make any unique predictions that we can exclude them on grounds of parsimony. To put it another way, from the point of view of the scientist, science and its method really is magisterial in the natural realm, but that does not render religion magisterial in the realm of non-science----after all, there are many non-scientific claims which are equally non-falsifiable, but they are not necessarily religious. Besides, science can verify that the realm in which it operates actually exists: religion can hardly do the same.

* Just to clarify: people who emphasize a '6-day creation' are typically talking about six 24-hour days. So-called 'day-age' or 'progressive' creationists often view the 'days' as something other than 24-hour periods, and so my gloss above should not be taken to refer to those versions of creationism---which, through reinterpretation, largely remove Genesis 1 from the set of claims that can be said to have expected consequences that could, in principle, be falsified.



Vox has once again thrown down the cyber-gauntlet. To his great credit, he takes the time to break down Miller's example regarding telomeric fusion of human chromosome #2 and comes to some interesting conclusions. If you've been following the 'debate' for awhile, you may be surprised by the mildness of his response. Some of his principled objections remain, however, and I will address those in later posts. His post is substantive and when I read it I had the feeling that he was building to some conclusion about the applications of evolutionary theory. That's the real source, I think, of his skepticism where TENS is concerned: everything else is scaffolding.

Well, I'll probably have to respond with a series of posts, given the length and detail of Vox's new entry. I ask everyone's patience.


This short clip (just 33 sec) is endlessly fascinating for anyone who has ever studied or taught a little fluid mechanics. If someone could loop this with a New Age soundtrack, they would have the virtual Lava Lamp of their dreams.


It's true, so true.

MuggleNet reports that shooting on 'The Half-Blood Prince' is underway, and alludes to a charming MTV video of Daniel Radcliffe in which, it turns out, he confides that he received a little advance hint from Rowling as to the fate of his character.

He is, as always, charming and intelligent. No wonder so many of my female students have attempted to sweet-talk me out of the oversize GOF movie poster in my classroom, a gift from a colleague and fellow HP fan.

Unfortunately for both of us, we have more than a year to wait until the scheduled premiere of the sixth film. Many people think that the series will lose steam with the conclusion of the books already foregone, but I think people miss out on the fact that there is something inherently fascinating about watching these characters grow up before our eyes---and even something disturbing. People routinely remark at how the increasingly grim consequences of Rowling's storyline began to disturb them, and the movies have pretty much followed the tone of gathering darkness. What few people seem to appreciate is what an original move this was for a work that seemingly began as 'children's literature' but ended up being as equally-beloved by hordes of 'adults' such as myself.



Not me!

In that vein, my friend Mark has a wonderful comment here concerning a Christian who is actually trying to (gasp) listen to non-believers, as opposed to dehumanizing them by defining them by their absence of belief. Mark is right when he observes that such refreshing openness is rarely seen publicly, and I urge those of you who consider yourself believers to read his comments and follow the link to the discussion in question.


Global warming is, of course, a fact. The world is changing, and many of those changes will be disastrous, particularly those concerned with the loss of habitat and the biodiversity supported by same.

Yet, as this news item forwarded by Sean (profiled on pg. 22 of this PDF file) shows, there will be opportunities that emerge from global warming, including the possible exploitation of oil deposits as yet-inaccessible in an ice-locked Arctic. What a strange, sick synergy---that the removal of some fossil fuels could then create conditions that lead to even more such removal. Perhaps, in the near future, we’ll even see oil company-sponsored ‘science’ programming arguing how good global warming is for all of us!



An intelligent, albeit ascerbic personality over at PZ’s place observes:

“You've never explained how it is that your religious beliefs survived the gauntlet of skepticism that you so frequently praise. Furthermore, you've made vague assertions about your religious beliefs being beyond the bounds of scientific inquiry, which is only possible if they're incoherent and devoid of meaning.”

More than one person has raised this objection, and (as I’ve posted previously here) that’s one of the things that prompted me to start this blog in the first place.

I’ve been very slow to address it in any sort of detailed way, though. I’ve been feeling my way through a topic that is not at all familiar or comfortable, and for which the potential for self-deception is large. However, I do believe that I’ve come to an important conclusion, one that bears on the above question, and which is independent of the question of whether religious belief is either true or meaningful:

What is the nature of religious belief? It is fantasy.

Now, by that I mean not merely that religious beliefs are fed by subjective impressions (which is true of claims which are not religious) but that they require an active role for fantasy. The ‘leap of faith’ is, at least in part an imaginative ‘leap’ from that which can be demonstrated to that which can only be taken on faith. *

Now, if religious belief depends upon an element of fantasy, does it then follow that:

a) it is beyond the bounds of scientific inquiry?
b) it is incoherent?
c) it is meaningless?
d) it is compatible with reason, and can survive “the gauntlet of skepticism”?

My short ‘answers’ at this point to each of those questions are as follows:

a) not necessarily: depends on what we mean

b) yes

c) no

d) possibly, but I am uncertain how this be true, and I may well be wrong—and, in fact, part of the point of putting these ideas out here is to receive criticism and advice on these topics.

I will discuss these points, in the order given, in subsequent posts. I explicitly invite criticism, even anonymous criticism: otherwise, what's the point?

* The philosophically well-read (I don't include myself in that group) will probably recognize that I am indebted to Kirkeggard, though I wasn't conscious of it at the time I was thinking about the problem.


For those waiting for the fur to fly, Vox and I have been in private communication and we'll soon be back launching cyber-missiles at one another. I appreciate all of you who keep coming back to my site looking for more fireworks, and I just ask for patience.