Over at PZ's place, there's a post that attempts to expose another creationist prevaricator. I'm all down with that, but PZ begins his post by referencing a comic book by the visionary Jack "King" Kirby:

OK, HOLD IT. I will put up with a lot of anti-theist crap by you, O Great P-Zeta, but when you go after 'The King', you've gone TOO FAR.

Jack Kirby may have been some sort of theist, but he was no creationist as we might understand it. This selection from Eternals #1 has been taken wildly out of context. In a word, somebody goofed. Summoning my inner geek, here are the actual facts of the matter:

The character of 'Ike Harris' is revealed in the series to be IKARIS, a member of an immortal race of great power and knowledge called 'The Eternals'. Therefore, Ike Harris's allusion to evolution and common descent comes from one who knows, and the 'professor' character who gives him grief for it turns out to an ignorant, pompous twit.

Here's are some actual Kirby riffs on the idea of God, by the way. These are quite a bit off the well-trod path of conventional theism, and marvelously imaginative:


Every now and then, I indulge myself with the following description: 'My father, the motorcycle historian.' It makes for a novel conversation-starter and beats the bejebus out of phrases like 'the old man' or 'the paterfamilias'.

Anyway, my father, Jerry Hatfield, has written his share of well-researched (if often narrowly-focused) books on motorcycling, particularly antique motorcycles:

As you might expect from such output, he's a bit of a celebrity amongst those who share his interests. For many years he was the only person who was allowed in the Harley-Davidson archives and he's becoming a fixture on the circuit of antique motorcycling galas (who knew there were such things?) He's appeared on The History Channel series "Modern Marvels" and, as previously mentioned, on Jay Leno's web site 'Jay's Garage'. This summer, he'll be traveling to New Zealand to speak at some convention. And his latest book, a labor of love about racing legend Rollie Free, how has its' own web site! Check it out, here!



As you might imagine, I haven't posted much in the last few days due to the holidays. As a Christian who serves a local church as an arm-waver and ivory-tickler, the holidays for me began well before Christmas Eve. There's this little thing called Advent, see.

Anyway, I didn't have it too rough. I had a special winter solstice service last week, Sunday services and then on Wednesday, Christmas Eve service at 11:00. This is usually the fog-shrouded, life-menacing service when it's time to go home. Very romantic, all wrapped in dark gloominess, but also a bit of a white knuckler if you're planning on driving home. This year was less romantic: it rained off and on much of Tuesday and Wednesday, and so there wasn't enough moisture in the air to drive the dreaded Tule fog.

Weather aside, though, rain or shine I always seem to have three Christmases. There's the church Christmas, with whatever obligations I've signed up for. Over the years, I've learned to pace myself, so that I don't feel that I'm overwhelmed or missing out on experiencing the season of giving. Then there's the in-law Christmas, which (as detailed below) is what I've come to expect over the last decade or so. Finally, there's the personal Christmas.

Now, my wife's side of the family typically has a very boisterous mass gift exchange on Christmas Eve between all parts of the family. This was less rowdy than usual, perhaps due to the somber note cast by the fact that this was the first such celebration since the family patriarch, my father-in-law Jay Lawley, died. Jay certainly loved these times, and it's been my job the last few years to 'play Santa' and distribute the gifts. The nature of this role can be best appreciated by considering the accompanying illustration. If I passed them out too readily, then my wife would holler at me to "SLOW DOWN!" so that the gifts could be savored (and, in some cases, tabulated) with commentary, flattering or otherwise. Yes, I was the very Avatar of Avarice, dispensing the goodies.

Well, not this time. I've made a commitment to myself to not get over-exercised by anything during my time off. I'm really just trying to relax! So, I sat and let some other poor unfortunate mimic Kris Kringle. And I chuckled while my wife yelled at them, and anyone else who might listen, that Christmas was going too fast. Because, really, for my wife Christmas Eve is Christmas. All her kids have grown past the Santa stage. Christmas Day is more of a 'sleep-in, hang-out, have a big dinner in the late afternoon' kind of day. Much public discussion of what is tasty and who needs to do a better job of cooking in the future may follow. Later, we play a game where we 'steal' gifts from each other, which has become something of a tradition. Again, much hollering and complaining, and thus, much entertainment value.

Now, my side of the family does things differently. No presents opened Christmas Eve...that would 'spoil' Christmas! Instead, all the presents are opened Christmas morning, then a mid-day snooze, followed by an afternoon meal, and a few chuckles but not so much hollering. We might play a game or work on a jigsaw puzzle together, but it would be tranquil. Or, as my wife might put it, boring.

My ex-wife, meanwhile, is a Catholic church musician. So, she doesn't have one service on Christmas Eve. She has multiple services on both Christmas Eve and Christmas, and over the last few years this has drawn in both my son and his grandfather to participate. Therefore, my son's house doesn't open presents until the mid-afternoon of Christmas Day. Talk about delay gratification! I managed to rouse myself and take my presents over there, and so there's one last, more intimate exchange of gifts. And then, in a fog of contentment, I settle in with my eggnog and a (not-so-peaceful) commitment to whatever first-person shooter is happening on the video game console. Frankly, this helps me shed whatever stress and angst is provoked by juggling the various Christmases.

This year the carnage is EA's "Dead Space":

Very scary, very cool. Peace on earth, good will to men, and nothing but fragging for the sprites. I will have to redouble my efforts in that department today, as I will be heading down to SoCal in a few days to have a Fourth Christmas with my brother's family and my Mom and Dad.

Anyway, to all of you out there, believer and non-believer alike, have a Merry Christmas. Enjoy your friends and families, find some way to give back to your community and get those batteries recharged! Another year of struggle will commence, soon enough.



The story goes that King Canute humiliated his obsequious courtiers by commanding the tide to reverse itself. When the tide failed to turn at his command, he remarked how worthless worldly kingship is, and (depending on which source you read) gave some sort of tribute to God.

So, as any one should realize, there is a limit to how much can be accomplished just by putting a crown on the new guy's head. There are some things that human beings can't do, regardless of title, like instructing the tide to reverse itself. And politicians tend to do the things that are politically expedient in order to maintain power, regardless of ideology. Sometimes, you have to swim with the tide, or else drown. People who have an unrealistic investment in a leader's charisma are setting themselves up for disappointment and this may have been the intended lesson Canute intended all those years ago, and it is interesting to compare his biography with the recent moves of President-elect Obama.

Canute was a Viking. He wielded considerable power throughout Europe, and was often referred to as the 'Emperor of the North' for holding dominion over England, Denmark and Norway. He was also a skillful politician, marrying a Christian (Emma of Normandy, the widow of Ethelred) to seal his control of the English throne while also maintaining ties (in neopagan custom) to his handfast wife of neopagan custom. Following his marriage to Emma, Canute was very generous in his financial support to the churches of his day, further cementing his hold on power. It's amazing what a little money and some public acts of face-saving (in Canute's case, to the Normans) can do.

Well, this Obama feller is a pretty fair politician, too. His moves in picking Democrats who are hawkish on defense plays well with conservative policy wonks on foreign policy and military affairs; his elevation of Sen. Clinton into the (gulp) chain of presidential succession and (arguably), the second-most powerful position in the executive branch is an olive branch to the feminist wing of his party and the invitation to Pastor Warren an obvious nod to evangelicals. Again, if you were expecting a radical departure from the past, you might well glumly conclude with (with apologies to Pete Townsend) that Obama is 'same as the old boss':

But in what is to me one of his more telling moves, Obama has obviously completely broken with the Bush Administration's dysfunctional approach to science. His appointments to head the Energy Department (Steven Chu), NOAA (Jane Lubchenco) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (John Holdren) are causing the global-warming denialists and opponents of stem cell research to throw up their hands in dismay. They are being called 'radicals', 'extremists' and 'anti-energy' by those on the right. I wonder why?

Submitted for your consideration.....

Here's an interesting talk by Lubchenco from October 2007 that such folk might find objectionable....apparently, Lubchenco thinks that scientists should advocate for the science in public life, rather than some sort of politically-expedient outcome.

Here's an op-ed piece by Holdren from August 2008 that really takes climate change skeptics to task. No wonder some of them describe Holdren (a former president of the AAAS, one of the most prestigious science outfits on the planet) as 'Chicken Little' or a 'crackpot.'

Finally here's a speech by Chu (currently Director of the Lawrence Berkeley Labs) at the National Energy Summit from a few days ago as to his interests in global warming:

Apparently, Chu is interested in preserving (in his words) 'a beautiful planet.' No wonder some of the not-so-left in the blogosphere view him as 'psychiatrically impaired.'

I conclude that, like King Canute before him, Obama is substantively living in reality.

Rather than telling the tide to reverse itself, the President-elect seems to be committed to bringing people into his Administration who think we should rely on the test of nature (that is, scientific findings) in evaluating policy.

No Bush-style suppression or ignoring inconvenient facts as part of a 'war on science.'

No career political stooges being placed in positions where their scientific illiteracy threatens sound policy decisions.

No more ignoring the formal findings of the National Academy of Science, or filling the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology with scientific mediocrities willing to toe the line for James Imhofe (R-Okl).

The millenium isn't upon us, the problems are serious and sobering and no amount of magical handwaving is going to solve the problems. But, if I am any judge, then the tide HAS turned on that day when we have a President who says this, and (crossing my fingers) really believes it:

Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and work to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology....ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology.



I'm a theist who happens to also teach biology for a living, and I'm pretty enthusiastic about those parts of biology which deal with evolution. It's very cool science, and needs to be better known. Now it is true that the fact of evolution makes the old doctrine of special creation superfluous, and different believers deal with that in different ways.

Ian Barbour and other scholars in the field of science-religion studies have developed a taxonomy of these approaches: conflict, independence, dialogue and integration.

In general, partisans in the 'evo-creo wars' show a marked preference for 'conflict', and since disputes sell papers, you can often witness the curious spectacle of a local media figure or politician who is really out of his or her depth attempt to bring the smackdown against evolution. These folk will profess their neutrality for evolution as science upfront, or at least attempt to strike a neutral-sounding tone, but they eventually lose their way in a cul-de-sac of intent. These wanna-be pundits will seize upon some imagined correlation with evolution as evidence for the idea contributing to this or that social problem.

An event from last week's news, that I chronicled here, has evolved further. It seems that a Times columnist, one Linda Whitlock, finds the whole matter 'ironic'. She writes, in part:

Evolution is "a thing that I think about and I believe in it," The Times quotes Creasy as saying. It's clear from Creasy's actions that not only does he think about and believe in evolution, he's also internalized its implications.

Whatever power evolution may have to explain the diversity of life on Earth, it has no power to explain why we consider it wrong for Creasy to pass off another person's work as his own. Or, for that matter, how we arrived at the moral categories we call "right" and "wrong" in the first place.

This is the truth most true believers in evolution refuse to accept. Only a few, like Cornell biology professor William Provine, are willing to acknowledge what even teenagers like Brandon Creasy intuitively grasp.

You can read her entire column here.

There are, of course, a lot of things wrong with the above passage, not the least of which is that evolutionary theory does have quite a bit to say about the (possible) natural origins of human behavior, including ethics. Altruism is not an intractable problem for theory, and it is more than a bit annoying to see people so far behind the times that they don't know this: sociobiology is increasingly mainstream, with E.O. Wilson's seminal essay On Human Nature now thirty years old. But I digress.....

Another problem is the allusion to Provine's views without explaining exactly what they are. This may be a deliberate choice on Whitlock's part, which suggests that she might be an 'intelligent design' creationist who is following the playbook of the jurist Philip Johnson, who often sparred with Provine. Johnson appears to have had a friendly relationship with Provine and vastly preferred him to foes like Ken Miller, precisely because the Cornell biologist and historian of science couches his metaphysical take on Darwin in absolutist terms.

But the ugliest part is the filthy, damnable smear on evolution itself: according to Whitlock, it's responsible, dontcha know, for the worldview of cheats like student plagiarizer Brandon Creasy! Well, that's just more than I can take lying down: the fact is, it was evolution supporters who fought for integrity, not the newspaper, and certainly not the columnist in question. Surely you would think that guys like Blake Stacey would get some credit for documenting what happened for the good of the scientific enterprise? Surely some fact-checker, somewhere might want to acknowledge that people like me (evolution supporter and theist) left notification about Creasy's plagiarism on their web site, as shown here. Apparently Ms. Whitlock didn't get the 'fair and balanced' memo.

So, keeping in mind that I'm still irritated, here's my reply, a letter to the editors of the Roanoke Times. They already printed an editorial on Monday that I strongly agree with. Let's see if they print my response to Whitlock's piece:

Dear Editor:

As reported Dec. 12th, Gereau Center Principal suppressed a student paper on evolution on grounds that it was potentially 'insensitive' to the beliefs of others. Your editorial board took the Principal to task the same day, but the waters were muddied when it became clear that the student in question had plagiarized his paper from sources available on-line. As a science teacher who cares very much about academic integrity, I left a comment on the Times blog that very evening notifying the editorial board that the student's work was plagiarized.

Now, this discovery was not made by anyone in print media, much less your columnist Linda Whitlock ("The irony of evolution", Dec. 18th). Rather, it was bloggers in the scientific community, notably those associated with the popular site 'Pharyngula', which 'smelled a rat' when they read the student's paper on-line. Imagine my consternation with Whitlock's piece, which asks us to infer that the teaching of evolutionary biology encourages unethical behavior!

Really? Would it pain Whitlock to 'fact-check' the matter a bit further? The science bloggers who reported the plagiarism, like me, are enthusiastic supporters of evolution education. At the same time, we know probably better than most how essential integrity is to all aspects of the scientific enterprise. Part of integrity is that we do not knowingly conflate different concepts. Evolution in and of itself is not a belief system, and biology texts contain biology, not metaphysics. The personal views of some as to evolution's metaphysical implications are exactly that, their personal views. But Whitlock's piece does not make this important distinction!

There are only two possibilities: either Whitlock is woefully misinformed on the topic, or else (which seems more likely) she is deliberately conflating a scientific concept with a belief system. If so, which widely-accepted pillar of modern science shall we smear in order to 'explain' her lack of ethics?



I hesitate to blog about this. While I am always outspoken in terms of education policy, I say very little about politics otherwise. Many of my colleagues differ from me on points of policy in other areas, and I think it is unwise to link education policy to other areas of public life. I also have family members with whom I respectfully differ, and I'm just not that comfortable bad-mouthing our leadership. I've always tried to respect the Executive branch of government, even if I didn't vote for those filling it and disagreed with the policies. As far as I'm concerned, President Bush is my President, too.

But I just have to say that I am still angry about the way the Bush Administration got us into the war, and Dick Cheney's recent statements (and, frankly, his self-aggrandizing attitude) brings all those dyspeptic feelings to the surface.

I trusted my President in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq. It was very clear that the Administration was selling us on the likelihood that Saddam Hussein's band of thugs were in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It was also clear that it was a 'hard sell' to the American people and the world at large. The Administration sent one of its most respected members, Secretary of State Colin Powell, to make that case to the U.N. Security Council based upon the intelligence available. We found little support there, and many Americans were angered by the refusal of Security Council members (notably France) to accept the Administration's interpretation. The President, acting to defend the American people based upon that interpretation, then put into action an essentially unilateral policy that led us, step by step, to invade Iraq.

I have vivid memories of agonizing about the whole mess. Three weeks prior to the war, I was still waffling: yes, Saddam is bad....no, we don't have clear evidence of his supporting Al-Qaeda....yes, there is a global war on terror.....no, we don't have clear evidence that Saddam would ever supply terrorists with WMD......yes, it would be good to not have to rely on the Saudis or the Turks in order to intervene in the strategically-important region.....no, we don't have the support of the international community.....

What finally tipped me into supporting the policy were the constant insinuations that Saddam didn't merely have a WMD program, as in the gassing of the Kurds, but a nuclear program. Much was made of the existence of aluminum tubes. Vice President Cheney alluded to mushroom clouds in a speech, a clear reference to nuclear terror. With a week running down on the clock, normally-invisible NSA analysts were getting time on C-SPAN to talk about the possibility of nuclear terror in the Mideast. I can remember going to my wife and friends and saying that this was the tipping point in me, and that I believed that the President wouldn't follow this course unless the intelligence was credible. The belief that WMD's existed was so strong that many people, including me, considered the possibility that they might be used against our troops in Iraq when the Republican Guard became desperate.

Well, we know what happened after that. We didn't find an active program for WMD, and once this became so clear that the President had to own up or else lose all credibility, there was an admission and a shift in justification. Later, Vice President Cheney claimed that WMD's or no, that invading Iraq was still the right decision. Cheney elaborated on this point in a recent ABC interview: basically, the Veep argues that while there were no WMD's, that Hussein had the means to put together a biological or chemical program and intended to do so. The justification for Cheney's conclusion? Hmm....the same intelligence operatives whose cherry-picked findings pointed to WMD in the first place.

Can there be any clearer indication that Bush plans to pardon Scooter Libby, and that the various shadow dealings of the Cheney Vice-Presidency are going to remain in shadow? Cheney is essentially taking the presumption of past failure as the high ground. The bad decisions based upon faulty intelligence are now justified by more faulty intelligence. Here's how another blogger sums up Dick's prevarications: he just can't admit that he was wrong.

I'll go further: Dick Cheney is a real piece of work, whose opinions on national security seemed to have best served his political cronies rather than the American people. He was good for oil companies, good for Halliburton, good for defense contractors----and bad for the rest of us. But he doesn't lack for confidence, does he? No matter how wrong he and the neo-cons were about the WMD, he says, they were still right about Iraq. The rest of us, who doubted and who were only persuaded to support the policy by a barrage of nuclear misinformation, we're terrorist dupes in Cheneyland, and he thinks history will vindicate him and the President.

Again, in my opinion, that's only going to happen if the truth doesn't come out about what they actually did. Since that seems unlikely, the best I can hope for at this point is that Cheney slinks back into the secretive bosom of Big Oil.



This may seem inexplicable, and it certainlyl doesn't reflect anything having to do with anuran biology. But, there's this creature, see . . . .

The other fella is my bro, the English academic, comics scholar and blogger. The lady next to yours truly in the upper right-hand corner is my cousin Angie, who helps manage the endowment of the Philadelphia Orchestra. And the lady whose portrait is underneath me is Angie's sister, my cousin Carla, who is also a blogger.

Why are we all obviously posed with odd-looking purple lump?

You can read my aunt Mae Dean's explanation here. Since this picture was taken, my mom has taken custody of the nostalgia-mongering old soul, which is apparently older than all of us. Apparently, my mother felt she just couldn't bear to decide who would get it, as we all loved it so. One of us (who shall be nameless) subsequently suggested that we draw up a joint custody agreement!




The chameleonic vulgarian Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone has apparently finalized the financial terms of her divorce with soon-to-be ex-husband Guy Ritchie.

I confess to being baffled. The fellow had a pretty decent livelihood of his own as a film director prior to his being married, and after all, he did have SEX with the biggest pop tart of the 20th century on numerous occasions. For this, he needs a $75 million consolation prize?

I'm in the wrong line of work.



When you plagiarize, your omission becomes your commission. More on that in a moment.

Blake Stacey has the latest evo/creo skirmish outlined in the following must-read post, which touches not only on the question of the First Amendment rights of students, but the rather brazen habit of plagiarism that is widely embraced by most students. At the risk of moralizing, plagiarism is not just bad manners, it's intellectual theft and typically fatal to one's scientific career.

Science has a pretty high standard in this regard compared to the popular culture. If a scientist had attempted to take credit for 'inventing the Internet' or pronounced an ongoing war 'mission accomplished', they would never be able to live it down. That Joe Biden is the Vice President-elect after being caught red-handed with someone else's life story should tell you something about the political class, which is that they are able to overcome our low expectations.

Now, in my experience most creationists have the same leaden attitude toward citation as the politicians. Many of them are hopeless plagiarists of the 'cut-and-paste' variety. There's an almost-incestuous use of the same discredited arguments from the same sources by some of these guys, and even the material that seems new to me is, as often as note, compiled from the work of others. The most pernicious examples are when real scientists are 'quote-mined' from sources that have been selectively-edited. To no one's surprise, the edited versions are the ones that are selectively requoted over and over again by creationists, who give the impression of being clueless: they are not only unaware that their sources have not only been discredited, but they have not even considered that possibility that it might be bad form to pilfer the arguments of others word-for-word and unsourced.

As the witty Kristine Harley commented recently on an earlier post, "How everlastingly exhausting it is to try to go to the conceptual grocery store with creationists who keep losing their keys between the front door and the car door."

Now, I have some first-hand experience with this sort of thing. A few months back I had to publicly correct a Young Earther who had swiped a picture of 'Francisco Ayala' from the Internet to decorate his Power Point, but (ack) had gotten the wrong Ayala! He allowed he was going to correct this, but the last I checked he's still using someone else's picture of the wrong Ayala to make his point, probably because the Spanish author looks a bit more seedy in his pictures than the slick, well-groomed evolutionary biologist.

In a more personal example, I once sent an email to an Old Earth Creationist of my acquaintance which attached a copy of a presentation that I have given to various groups on the history of the Big Bang model, including the Power Point and a PDF file of the content. It contained some text on the question of cosmological 'fine tuning'. Imagine my surprise when, at a later meeting of a group to which this fellow belonged, he quoted my work verbatim as part of a presentation to the group as if it was his work. I sat, slack-jawed, in the front row of seats during the presentation less than ten feet from the guy. I finally 'reminded' him gently in front of the entire group that he was quoting from my work. The look of puzzlement on his face haunts me, because as a high school teacher, I know that plagiarism has reached epidemic proportions in the youth culture.

For that reason, I regularly require students to submit written work in my Biology courses to the on-line integrity software 'Turnitin.com'. This becomes especially important at the end of the course, when I have students write essays based upon a rubric prompt on one of four general topics within evolution. Students are expected to cite APA style within the text as well as provide a bibliography, and they are expected to have some primary sources. I'd be willing to guess that the unfortunate Mr. Creasy's editor utterly failed to do something similar, based upon the information available to me.

By the way, the newspaper that reported it (The Roanoke Times) also forgot to fact-check before printing the text of the student's article in their Friday edition, and yours truly was one of the first (perhaps the first) to leave a note to their staff to inform them of this lapse.

Anyway, the key point is this: plagiarism of the crass wholesale 'cut-and-paste' variety shown in the student's 'essay' is inexcusable. It's not my job as a teacher to tell kids what to 'believe' where evolution is concerned. They should make up their own minds, and they should use their minds to produce their own work, not steal the work of others and represent it as their own. The moment they fail to acknowledge that work, they become thieves. Sins of omission become sins of commission.


Khrushchev, that is.

Anyway, I think this fellow is very unfair to shoes, which is almost as bad as being uncivilized, though not as bad as the current war the lame ducks got us into. This moment will live in memory as emblematic of the nadir of America's reputation abroad.



Lyrics | Elvis Costello lyrics - God's Comic lyrics

Oh yes I was a comical priest
With a joke for the flock
and a hand up your fleece
Drooling the drink and the lipstick and grease-
paint down the cardboard front
of my dirty dog-collar

-----God's Comic, by Elvis Costello.

Over at PZ's place, the world's most notorious zebrafish torturer has a thought about....clerical garb. It seems that it's not enough that Our Godless Hero has taken the high ground of reason to bedevil the faithful. He's now concerned that there's an inherent inequality in perception, driven by the fact that some clergyman wear a 'uni' that supposedly announces their moral superiority. Apparently the existence of clerical collars, orange robes, bald pates and long beards claims some sort of 'high ground' and unfairly leverages the way debates about religion are perceived by the public. PZ writes:

I guess I'm just going to have to put it on my to-do list of things to accomplish while we're destroying religion: diminish the credibility of the clerical uniform.

Well, as I wrote over at PZ's place, do tell. Perhaps you should also take steps to undermine the gravitas of their buildings? I mean, certain architectural styles simply mark the religious as a privileged class in this world or the next, especially if (by way of comparison) you work in the cinderblock wing of academia. Seriously, PZ, the shot on this page of your school site looks like a prison:

How in the Name of Cthulthu are you supposed to compete with something like this, that practically screams out, "I'm going to heaven...and you're not!"....?

I await with great interest the details of your visit to the local Planning Commission. Down with all spires, stained glass, gargoyles and the like....or, if that is not feasible, perhaps a warning sticker? Something, perhaps, like this:


After all, we would never want to privilege our views....right?



Well, to start things off, I had to leave Texas a day after the funeral, just when I was enjoying myself with the rest of the family. It was a shame to be together so briefly.

Then, the Cowboys somehow managed to blow a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter after dominating on defense. Just awful, especially since I boarded Flight 541 (Dallas to Phoenxi) with that lead intact, and the game's script seemingly foregone.

Then, the connecting flight from Phoenix to Fresno made it to Fresno in good time, around 10:20.......

....and circled

....and circled

....and circled

Eventually it was announced that we could not land due to the heavy fog conditions, which seemed difficult to credit given the amount of detail I could pick up from my window seat, but I don't make these decisions. Bakersfield was mentioned as an alternate destination, but it quickly came back that their airport was also shrouded in condensation. Then, Burbank was discussed but (comically) I overheard the very put-out stew (I was in the front row, seat 1C) express her disbelief that 'nobody in Burbank is even answering the phone!'

After another ten minutes, the decision was made to go to Santa Barbara (!) because someone there had answered the phone. When we arrived, a young man in a snow cap and shorts (!) came up the ladder and expressed shock that any passengers would deplane, much less require alternative transportation to get from Santa Barbara to Fresno. He actually tried to convince the crew of the (Canadair) Bombadier CRJ-200 to take off and go to some other airport!

Once we left the aircraft, it was pretty clear why: the place was a ghost town. Nothing was open at the airport other than the main lobby. Nothing. No coffee, not so much as a candy bar machine. Just ominous posters from Homeland Security and desks to check baggage and issue boarding passes to, apparently, nowhere. It was dark, slightly misty and for about 30 of us passengers (mostly total strangers) it was limbo. Under stress, many of that not-too-happy band began revealing their grace, or lack of it, in what were likely characteristic ways. The faux-Mission style architecture merely added to the creepiness of a scenario right out of a Stephen King novella, in which no doubt members of the motley crew would be dispatched horrifically one-by-one. Or, at least, this is the sort of thing that pops into your head in such a scenario. I tried to put the heebie-jeebies aside by calling the district's automated line and requesting a sub for my Monday classes which I would clearly not be able to teach.

Eventually, the young man in shorts reemerged to 'explain' that there was no bus company in Santa Barbara willing to transport us back to Fresno Yosemite International, but that a bus could be engaged from Fresno, but they would have to go the long way due to the fog down I-5 and over through Ventura County, but perhaps they could be here by 3:00 in the morning, and could he get a head count of those who want to take that option? Well, in point of fact nobody wanted to take that option, but since it was the only one on the table that promised a return by Monday morning (the car rental place had closed), many of us acquiesced. And, when the bus eventually pulled up at 4:48, it was a bit of relief. I was walking to the parking lot at FYI to find my truck a little after 10:00, a mere eleven hours or so later than originally planned. And it wasn't such a tough Sunday after all.

Because it was Monday. I'm rolling my eyes so hard at this point I may develop callouses. My sub carried my morning classes, but I'm going in this afternoon because we have staff meetings and because I'm assisting Mr. Oliver in coaching ACADEC. At least I get pizza!


Oh, but it gets better. It seems that while I was purchasing tickets from USAirways through Expedia.com, someone swiped by credit card info. By Wednesday of this week my wife was drawing my attention to a supposed purchase of goods on-line from Armani. As if I was 'Mr. GQ'! When we contacted the bank, we learned of several more transactions that hadn't yet posted, nearly a thousand dollars worth of stuff. Well, we canceled the card and filed paperwork to get our money back, so the lesson's not too expensive, but man, I've had a week!




Many of my readers don't care too much for religion, and others don't care too much for religions they view as opposed to Christianity.

Allow me to offer a different perspective: religion taps into an awesome well of human potential for personal growth, community renewal and transcedence of the barriers to same...or for depersonalization, fragmentation and a whole host of divisive and destructive 'isms'.

Consider the awesome potential of the hajj for Muslims who embark upon this spiritual quest, one of the 'five pillars of Islam'. It is a task that requires a significant commitment of real-world time and resources, rich in symbolism:
It is stunning to consider that perhaps three million of my fellow human beings are in the midst of this quest, and that this aerial view of worshippers at Mount Mercy is but a small fraction of this convergence:

Now, where there are that many people in one place there is opportunity for mischief, and so we see that some want to politicize the event, using it as a backdrop to draw attention to their concerns about the world. But, as news accounts show, the vast majority resist this tendency and appear to be focused on the pilgrimage. May the messengers of peace attend them.



In a bit of a first, Monkey Trials now comes to you direct from the Lone Star State. We're having a bit of a family gathering at my folks' place in Arlington. My aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides are with us along with my brother and his wife following the funeral and gravesite service for my grandmother.

I took the time while I was at the cemetery in Cleburne to also visit the grave site of my father's parents (Charles and Virginia Hatfield). This marks the end of a stage in our family's history. With all of my grandparents having shuffled off this mortal coil, and with my Mom and Dad in Arlington, there will probably be no desire to ever return to Cleburne, Texas. Unless one of us grows pathologically nostalgic, which seems doubtful.

We now face a future that is no less uncertain than before in other matters.



Humor being a defense mechanism....

STUDENT: Mr. Hatfield? Could we turn up the heat? Ple-e-e-e-ease? I'm freezing!

Yeah, I get that all the time from my students, Chumley. I tend to keep my classes on the chilly side. While your personal mileage may vary, in my experience students become less attentive above 77-78 degrees Farenheit, so I tend to keep it colder than that (68-72). Sure, I often have to explain to the kid doing their best Tennessee Tuxedo impersonation why I'm not going to turn up the thermostat, but in general my students are more productive. And, on those days in class when we have the hot plates out, the lowered threshold keeps the classroom pleasant.

But, as usual, my school district tends to push these things to the limit. Witness this newspaper coverage of Fresno Unified's failure to provide adequate heat at certain school sites, particularly where I work, Bullard High School.

Just to make things clear, my classroom does not have one of the space heaters the article references, and yes, it has been quite cold: in the mid-40's during much of the morning yesterday, and (I suspect) probably much of today as well. I think I will post temperature readings on the blog later today just to document this stuff for future reference. After reading it, you may wonder, just how does the district expect us to function?

That's a rhetorical question, since I have no idea what the district expects at this point. All I can do is document what I and other clients of Fresno Unified deal with from time to time on this blog. You can click on the label 'The Classroom (ugh)' on the right to find a whole series of posts on this topic, if you have the time and care to sample the 'whine.' Believe me when I say that this latest episode of 'chilled' education is just....

....wait for it....

...the tip of the iceberg.


I pulled out five hot plates and had them running before first period began on Friday. It was about 49 degrees outside when class began, but by mid-morning I had managed to raise my shivering students to 60 degrees. By the afternoon we topped out at 64 degrees. Not optimal, and many of them kept their hoods on, but at least we were able to function: I did a demo of different pigments absorbing or reflecting specific frequencies of light using lasers and solutions that I had previously made by dumping leaves in alcohol (spinach for chlorophyll b, poinsettias for anthocyanin), and we completed notes on the Calvin Cycle.



...it was my Grandmother's birthday, slightly more than three years ago.

But yesterday, while undergoing the last mind-numbing day of district-mandated training for CLAD, I received a phone call from my mother letting me know that my grandmother, Leno Ellington, had died.

Leno was a willful woman who had the habit of saying that she 'didn't care for such as that' and as she grew older she seemed to say that more and more. She was straight-laced, stiff-necked and was not always easy for her children to deal with---a fact that I only came to appreciate when I was an adult. As a child, I remember my grandmother having a seemingly endless supply of energy in the kitchen and treating I and the other grandkids very sweetly. Other than a modest habit of Coca-Cola and an entirely understandable hatred of the Washington Redskins (she was a fierce fan of America's Team), she had no vices as such. She might've enjoyed an even longer life if she had been able to force herself to exercise, a constant sore spot with my mother, who took up an active role monitoring Grandmother's health and other affairs following a car accident nearly twenty years ago.

As Leno deteriorated, it became evident she could no longer live alone. She was moved into a retirement facility a few years ago and in March 2005 celebrated her 90th birthday, an occasion that saw the immediate family all fly in for a celebration:

It was a bit of a strained affair, held in a parlor at her old church in Cleburne, with what remained of her peers from the pews popping in and saying 'hello'. We eventually repaired to a local eatery which didn't exactly have the right ambience, with the Rolling Stones coming out of a overdriven jukebox and one of my guilty cousins doing what she could to hide the fact that she was drinking an adult beverage at the same table as 'Mrs. E' (as my Dad has called her for years).

In the back of our minds, some of us probably felt a bit guilty whooping it up, as we knew how easily her arthritic bones would tire at that point.

My mother (sitting next to Leno, and mercifully blocking my belly in the birthday picture) has worn herself out the last two months trying to provide care for her mom, and I am frankly grateful that her caregiving has come to an end. Now, I will be making the trek back to Cleburne, probably my last such trip to Johnson County, Texas, where I spent so many holidays, to help pay respects to the last of my grandparents. I guess I really am getting old after all.



For the many folk who left various comments on this post. I was, frankly, overwhelmed to get this many comments in such a short time. (James Earl Jones voice) "Such is the POWER of Pharyngula!"

Anyway, I can't respond individually to all of them, but I'll try to hit the highlights.

First of all, to those whose messages were essentially ones of affirmation, thanks very much! Dr. C, Johnnie Canuck, Mike Haubrich, wfr, Craig Messerman, Haki, Laurie and especially my fellow Molly winner Brownian, your encouragement is much appreciated!

Second, to commenters like Johnnie Canuck, Anonymous, Sarniaskeptic who suggested that I might be welcome sometime in the future in the camp of atheists, well, I kind of doubt (heh) that will ever happen. I am a believer, and while faith and reason are definitely not the same thing, my convictions motivate me to value the gift of reason, the practice of science and the defense of science education. But I do appreciate the sentiment. My standing offer to all non-believers and skeptics is to accept them where they are at, to listen with an open mind and to offer real friendship that is not contingent upon sharing the same belief in Big Sky Daddy.

Third, to djarm67, AIGBusted, Tim and others who are out there in various media attempting to promote science education: good for you! I hope that you notice that I've invited criticism and suggestions on how to improve our communication with the general public, including (gulp) 'framing.' I encourage you to pursue this in an active way, developing networks for mutual advice and support.

Fourth, to the many religious and former religious who identified their own belief system, and/or shared their take on how they reconcile or otherwise handle conflicts relating to science and faith, I have this observation: talking about the meaning of Darwin's work is very much like talking about ourselves. Most of us have a tendency to see what we want to see in the sage of Down House, and so perusing the many comments in this vein was, for me, very much like walking through a house of mirrors.

Finally, to the brave souls (especially Nick!) who offered me detailed suggestions as to what part of my public act needs work, thanks very much. I will respond to those comments in detail in a future post.




Following my posting about my encounter with Mayor (and new talk-radio host) Alan Autry, I've had a flurry of visitors, comments and (mostly) constructive criticism. It's been most appreciated!

However, here's an example of criticism that didn't appear publicly on my blog, but it's too delicious not to share, with some feedback. This is another example of the sort of email PZ Myers regularly gets, which is to say (to put it mildly) misdirected anxiety, formatted in the increasingly-notorious Comic Sans font. I hope that my attempts at setting the letter-writer straight are not as Comical, in appearance or otherwise!

Interesting dissembling on your part - your contention that humans are special is only part of the true and complete naturalist position that all life is special - just as special as humans.

Actually, I believe I pointed out that human beings have a special responsibility to the rest of life, inasmuch as we are conscious, aware of the consequences of our actions, etc. E.O. Wilson has made this argument explicit in his book The Creation. In doing so, I didn't reference biology alone. I mentioned the fact that scripture indicates a special role for mankind as the steward of creation. Perhaps you missed that?

You are to be commended for your considerable intellectual prestidigitation - You do not have to implicate capitalism to condemn the political, social and economic effluence of darwinism. Your attempt to deny the political and social implications of darwinism denies the power of words, the influence of science and dangers of misinterpreting the natural world. You are an unwitting tool of the naturalistic ideology.

I do not deny that it is dangerous to misinterpret t
he natural world. Did you miss the part where I said that Margaret Sanger was a poor biologist? History shows that the eugenics movement had a lot more to do with prejudice and social control than science. It also shows that the economic thought of Adam Smith and other 'laissez-faire' thinkers of the early 19th century influenced Darwin's thought and that the caricature of evolution known as 'social Darwinism' was pushed by capitalists (mostly Americans) eager to justify their 'robber baron' economic policies. These examples support the general point I made on the program, which is that evolution has been coopted for ideological purposes by both the right and the left!

Is it too much to ask that evolution be evaluated on the evidence from nature, as opposed to the way the human beings might use (or, in the case of Margaret Sanger, misuse) the concept? Surely you are aware that all manner of people have exploited Christianity for ideological purposes, among them Hitler? I could have turned that fact back against the caller and asked him to repudiate Christianity as a means of showing the absurdity of his argument, but that would've been unnecessarily divisive. I'm trying to get my fellow believers to give evolution a fair shake as science, and that means uncoupling it from ideological commitments in the political or religious sphere.

Before you claim evolution is a fact, first define evolution. The evidence shows species adapt, not that they turn into more complex life forms over time.

Your counter-argument suggests you may still be puzzled about the nature
of evolution. Look: my definition of evolution is the conventional genetic one, in which the frequency of alleles change within a population. One possible consequence of such genetic change is the emergence of a novel population able to breed only with itself and not other populations with which it shares common descent, which then by definition is considered a new species. However, contrary to what you imply there is no requirement that the species must necessarily be more complex, or more ultimately fit in some cosmic sense. In many cases, populations 'lose' previously-acquired 'adaptations', as in the case of blind cave fish.

As for the rest of this comment, it depends on what you me
an by 'evidence'. There is evidence for speciation events at the present time, a well-demonstrated genetic mechanism for change and evidence for the geological time scale. We use inference based on this and other evidence in building our models, and then use those models to direct our investigations, effectively treating them as 'evidence' which we then attempt to falsify.

Your "hope" that all scientists teach science without distortion is delusional and deceptive. You know they don't, you will not admit it.

Oh, sure I will. Why wouldn't I? Scientists are
human beings, and they often let their own biases show both within and without the classroom. Pretty much all teachers will occasionally 'slip up' from time to time without meaning to, including yours truly, and a smaller percentage will actively use their classroom as a 'bully pulpit' for their views. I consider the latter unfortunate and bad pedagogy, whether the teacher is promoting evolution or creation. The real question, though, is not whether a minority will act unwisely, but what are all teachers supposed to teach? Clearly, that should be what the scientific community has negotiated with the local educational establishment through the state. If you don't like it, you should get involved with some part of that equation to effect change. By the way, in my experience instructor bias usually involves creationists departing from their own state's standards.

Your inability to acknowledge a literal Adam and Eve is more deception, as molecular genetics has established the Mitochondral Eve and Y-Chromosomal Adam.

It's not that I'm unable or unwilling, it's just that my views on that are actually rather nuanced and I had only a limited amount of time on the program to make my case for science education. My take is that the 'Adam and Eve' described in Genesis could've represented real people or a composite of the experiences of many people. I did mention that Genesis has multiple sources, and I could've added that as far back as the 4th cent. St. Augustine urged people not to make the mistake of interpreting every passage in Genesis literally.

As far as Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosomal Adam, you are out of your depth there. No one who understands the data actually thinks that Mitochondrial Eve was the first human female or that Y-Chromosomal Adam was the first human male. As such, they do not actually map onto the literal account found in Genesis 2. For one thing, Eve would've lived about 80,000 years before Adam! Please check out the wikipedia article on 'Mitochondrial Eve' and read under 'Misconceptions.'

The fossil record does not support common descent, except in the context of highly punctuated, discontinuous deposition and periodically rapid and static advances wtihout intermediate speciation.

Actually, if you listened to the interview I make the point that the scientific community never claims that any particular fossil find is ancestral to contemporary populations. That observation is consistent with a narrow reading of your comment above, which refers to the technical meaning of 'transitional form', a term which is routinely misread or misrepresented by creationists. Strictly speaking, it is true that the fossil record doesn't 'prove' common descent even in the exceptional cases you reference above. However, the overall pattern of change in the fossil record does support the inference of common descent, and is consistent with the phylogenetic patterns predicted from comparative anatomy and molecular biology.

Your failure to include abiogenesis as part of the discussion is typical darwinian deception and its real fatal flaw. Without acknowledging that naturalists have no clue why or how the sudden, complex biological information system known as DNA/RNA appeared, the only context for supporting natural selection as a method for species' adapation is in the context of the ability of a highly, intelligently designed biological structure to allow for limited speciation and adaptation, emphasis on intelligently designed.

It's not a failure: it's intellectual honesty to point out that abiogenesis can be uncoupled from evolution by natural selection.

The former is a hypothesis and a scientific research program, largely in chemistry, heavily speculative in character, whose purpose is to explain the origin of life in natural terms. The latter is a well-supported and powerful scientific theory within biology to explain the diversity and distribution of life over time and space in natural terms. I neither accept or reject abiogenesis, but I strongly affirm the utility and power of evolution by natural selection. If (as you claim) evolution works because the system was intelligently-designed, then eventually we should discover compelling evidence of ID within biology itself. Obviously, the evidence presented so far has failed to persuade the vast majority of biologists, and until it does it won't make it into the scientific curriculum. Again, if you listen to the whole interview, you will hear that I acknowledge that is a possibility---but ID devotees obviously have their work cut out for them on that point.

If you had any understanding of mathematics and physics you would understand there is(are) no known physical force(s) that can explain the sudden appearance of complex biological life forms by naturalistic means, ergo, darwinism presumes life without examining or acknowledging the foundational structure it is based on. This is not science but ideology.

'Darwinism' as you choose to define can be understood to be an ideology, but few scientists use the term as you do, and those who do (usually British) use it as shorthand for 'evolution via natural selection' to distinguish it from other evolutionary scenarios. It is precisely these misunderstandings that lead me to avoid the term. I do not consider myself a 'Darwinist' or even an 'evolutionist' as these imply an ideological commitment that, frankly, I do not have. I have no ax to grind for 'naturalism' or 'materialism' either. I am an evolutionary biologist by training, a high school science teacher by vocation and a Christian (Methodist) by conviction. I admit to not having a Ph.D in math or physics, but I would appreciate it if you would actually learn a little biology (such as with Mitochondrial Eve, above) before you start hurling brickbats of alleged ignorance against me and my colleagues.

This struggle is not about science versus religion, despite how strongly you want it to be to justify the fallacious usurpation of knowledge by the supposedly superior rational intellect: it is about the misuse and abuse of science to inject ideology into the interpretation of naturalistic phenomenon. If you know this and yet persist in constant dissembly and parsing, you are no better than Dawkins and Hutchens. If you do not know this, you are to be pitied.
Congratulations, you are now a darwinian propaganda minister as well as a biology teacher.

You just don't appear to be paying that much attention. In the interview, both the Mayor and I pointed to our common faith. Our point of disagreement was not over whether or not God exists, but how much we think evolutionary theory can actually explain. Neither one of us was trying to force listeners to choose one over the other, so why would you assume that I am attempting to set science against religion? I'm afraid your labels say little about what I actually do for a living, and more about the things that you fear and clearly misunderstand. Again, if you'll recall the interview, I went out of my way to reject the introduction of ideological labels where evolution was concerned. I acknowledged that there were people on both sides of the political landscape who accept evolution, and people on both sides who were skeptical, like my host. And my host, for his part, acknowledged that there were a variety of views within Christianity where evolution is concerned, and we managed to have a civil discussion. At no point did Mayor Autry, who is pro-ID and a conservative Christian, find it necessary to call me names or suggest that I was not sincere. He went out of his way to suggest otherwise up front at the top of the interview. What a pity that you aren't willing to take the high road the Mayor traveled!