Monday, 31 October 2011

Contrary Evidence To Evolution And Global Warming?

By Keith Gilmour, October 2011

Following last month's Glasgow Skeptics talk, "Evolution and Global Warming Denial: How the Public is Misled", by NCSE (National Centre for Science Education) Executive Director Dr Eugenie Scott, ID proponent Dr Alastair Noble has used his website, The Centre For Intelligent Design (never to be confused with The Centre For Unintelligent Design!), to take issue with Dr Scott's contention that "there is no contrary evidence to evolution" (AN, essay link below) - and to criticise her decision to highlight "parallels between the denial of evolution and the denial of global warming." (ES, 2:46, video link below). On the first point, Dr Scott was, of course, just stating a fact. "There isn't scientific evidence against evolution. That all comes from the creationist literature and it's of the quality of those xenoliths that I mentioned and the lava flows." (ES, 42:09). It shouldn't have to be pointed out that good scientists are always on the lookout for "contrary evidence" and if Dr Noble has, or knows where to find, some evidence against evolution (anatomical, geological, bio-geographical, genetic – anything!), he should silence his foes and critics by producing it. Instead, though, he refers us to the joke of "irreducible complexity" as if this, in any way, constituted evidence. Dr Noble even has the nerve to lump this "evidence" in with the (at least respectable) 'fine-tuning' argument for the existence of God, gods or aliens - an addendum, by the way, to his favourite update on William Paley's 'watchmaker' argument of 1802 (which now has him quoting philanthropic atheist Bill Gates on the complexity of DNA), the objections to which are well-known.

On the second point, Dr Scott's comparison is a compliment evolution deniers do not deserve. Global warming/climate change deniers are certainly cranks (and many are clearly guilty of the sins highlighted in Dr Scott's lecture) but the same cannot be said of sceptics honestly querying the extent to which the climate is changing, the degree to which human activity has contributed towards changes in temperature, the role of CO2, the influence of solar activity, and so on. These sceptics do not face overwhelming evidence that has settled the matter and, unlike creationists and the ID crowd, are at least searching for natural explanations. In contradistinction to evolution, in other words, 'It's all our fault' is not "the only game in town." (ES, 32:46).

In the Q&A that followed her talk, Dr Scott defined "anthropogenic global warming" as "the planet is getting warmer and people have something to do with it" (ES, Q&A, 07:30) but in her preceding lecture she had used a 'Global Warming Denial' slide to divide sceptics/deniers into just three categories: "It's not getting warmer", "It's getting warmer, but humans aren't responsible" and "It's getting warmer, we're responsible, but there isn't anything we can do about it." (ES, 03:56). Unfortunately this omits those who only question the extent and predictability of the warming, the degree to which human beings are to blame and the most appropriate response. (My own view, incidentally, is that we should be aiming to clean up the planet irrespective of the AGW evidence and alarmism).

Alastair Noble objects to Dr Scott's comparison on the grounds that confusion may result and insists that evolution, global warming, etc must be treated "separately" and the evidence "judged on its own merits." (AN). As evolution and global warming 'are' treated separately and the evidence 'is' judged on its own merits 99.9% of the time, this is an extremely odd point to make but what reasons are we being offered to dismiss as illegitimate efforts to highlight similarities in approach, thinking, attitude, tactics, etc? If Dr Noble had paid attention to my question, he would know that I was not trying, for the sake of it, to "lump in 'Holocaust denial' as well." (AN). Instead, I made the straightforward point that evolution deniers have more in common with holocaust deniers than they do with climate change deniers. (See my essay/report Creationism, Holocaust Denial and The ID Crowd). Would Dr Noble object to a book entitled 'Conspiracy Theories' on the grounds that each must be treated separately and judged in isolation? "Academic scientists" (AN) do not waste their time debating with evolution deniers for the same reasons historians do not waste their time debating with holocaust deniers: to wit, both denialism groups reject overwhelming existing evidence, offer no real evidence to the contrary, dishonestly quote experts out of context, mischaracterise scholarly debate, and take comfort in paranoid conspiracy theories.

My question to Eugenie Scott (which she claimed not to have detected) was precisely as follows: "Don't evolution deniers have more in common with holocaust deniers?" (KG, Q&A, 22:48). To be honest, I was rather taken aback by Dr Scott's response. I first read about the similarities in Michael Shermer's excellent 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (link below) and came across it again most recently in Richard Dawkins' equally excellent 2009 book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (link below). Like them, I do not think it particularly "offensive" to point out the obvious and nor would I consider 'reluctance to cause offence' a good reason for keeping quiet about parallels. Comparing a historical fact supported by overwhelming evidence (the Holocaust) with a scientific fact (evolution) supported by equally overwhelming evidence is not, after all, to just "bring up the
Nazis." (ES, Q&A, 25:04).

If Dr Scott had been determined to avoid causing offence, she would not have used the terms "denier" or "denial" at all (even if they were occasionally replaced with "anti-global-warming-ist"). Instead, she would have employed the word sceptic throughout - in all honesty, a more accurate description of people who aren't, after all, claiming that nothing has ever evolved anywhere/no-one was gassed/climate doesn’t change. If Dr Scott genuinely would, as she asserted in the Q&A, "rather persuade" people, why did she use these loaded words? And why use the term 'ID-Creationism' when it is virtually guaranteed to infuriate ID proponents such as Dr Noble? Why tell one questioner that, "This is really not a matter of discussion" and "We're just not gonna argue about that" (ES, Q&A, 19:20) - or another, after the Q&A, that it would be pointless to debate ID with him? I too would "rather persuade" my opponents but when someone shows absolutely no interest in
being persuaded and consistently goes around peddling tripe to anyone who will listen, I think we have a responsibility to expose that person, their allies, and their pseudoscientific agenda.

The question of offensiveness to one side, Dr Scott's reference to "Intelligent Design Creationism" probably wasn't "the old guilt by association trick" (AN) but instead just a reference to the common ancestry and close working relationship of creationists and ID proponents - and I would remind Dr Noble that it was his choice to compare creationists and ID proponents to "Sinn Fein-IRA" (though I'm still not sure which is supposed to be which)! In addition, his suggested reading list for Dr Scott does not constitute "a substantial body of contrary evidence" (AN) any more than the writings of Arthur Butz, Paul Rassinier or Robert Faurisson constitute "evidence" against the holocaust. In truth, neither group have 'anything' to compare with Martin Durkin's (flawed but fascinating) 2007 documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle or Nigel Lawson’s 2008 book An Appeal To Reason: A Cool Look At Global Warming. And there is a reason Channel 4 can justify 78
minutes of primetime for Mr Durkin's contentious and controversial film whilst poor Dr Noble has to settle for 108 seconds via!

Finally, the word evolution is not, as Dr Noble contends (and would prefer), a "slippery" one. Common ancestry is simply the logical conclusion that comes from all that we have discovered - as well as from the absence of evidence to the contrary. Noble embarrasses himself by pushing the idea that, yes, this branch is obviously related to/descended from that branch but please don't go thinking they might both be from the same actual tree! Oh, and by the way, since we don't have every piece of the jigsaw (and never will), an interventionist must therefore come along, every now and again, with "new genetic information" and "body plans" (AN). Unfortunately for creationists and the ID crowd, educated and open-minded theists do not need the farce of "Intelligent Design" to challenge the proposition that "the origin and development of life is a blind and purposeless process" (AN). A god or gods (or aliens) may well have sparked the Big Bang, planted the seeds
of life, implanted souls into hominids, and so on, but I'm afraid this would still give us zero reason to be led astray, in our scientific and philosophical quests for answers, by the conspiracy theory denialism of attention-seeking kooks.

Dr Scott's lecture, Evolution and Global Warming Denial: How the Public is Misled, at the Glasgow Skeptics:

Q&A following Dr Scott's lecture (includes Dr Noble's question and my own):

Dr Noble's essay/report, Eugenie Scott says there’s No Contrary Evidence about Evolution and Global Warming:

Wikipedia entry on Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things:,_Superstition,_and_Other_Confusions_of_Our_Time

Richard Dawkins reading extracts from The Greatest Story Ever Told:

Dr Noble's 108 seconds on

The Centre For Unintelligent Design:

Centre For Unintelligent Design update

The Centre For Unintelligent Design has now been updated to include feedback, etc (and a 'very' revealing email from creationist and/or ID proponent Prof Steve Fuller).

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Creationist Group claiming DfE "support" ?

I just sent this to the DfE, you might consider doing something similar.

I am concerned that the creationist group Genesis Agendum are quoting correspondence with this department claiming that the department told them;
"I can see how your new educational resource could support schools."
"With this in mind you may wish to contact schools directly ..." 
Please see these links so you can see for yourselves. 
The department has taken pains to state that creationism should not be presented as science in UK schools and yet that is precisely what this site does.
 Please see here for an analysis in case you don't have anyone on hand that can spot the non-science on the site; 
Please can you consider clarifying the position with the WAU folks and making it clear that their material is not suitable for use in schools as it presents nonsense creationist claims as science.
You can send a message to the DfE here.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Dr Noble Strikes yet again-More on the Attenborough letter

I’m beginning to wonder if the good Dr Noble of C4ID is attempting to set some kind of record for coming out with the greatest number of inanely stupid statements about ID in the shortest space of time.

On the BCSE blog for this month alone we have record of his spat with Whitmore and then there was my earlier dissection of his attempts at a press release in response to the Dawkins/Attenborough letter.

This was quickly followed by the brilliant Grumpy Bobs Wonderful Life blog on Nobles academic freedom topic.

However, not satisfied with mere stupidity, Noble strives for greater inanity with his new
‘additional article’ -“Why Legislating for Evolution is Deeply Unscientific” (full text here ) to accompany his press release. As Noble brings in some lovely new paranoid arguments to join the usual old guff-including some Nazism ones-I just couldn’t help but respond.

Parts of this ‘additional article’ are simply a rehash of his earlier press release which has already been dealt with, so plenty of rhetoric along the lines of
“Why is there such a flap about the teaching of evolution? My hunch is that it has nothing to do with science at all, but with the promotion
of a materialistic and secular worldview"
For which I can only repeat what has been said in earlier blogs-it isn’t-and wonder at his continued use of the word secular. After all doesn’t secular mean religiously neutral? Isn’t science (and indeed much of education, for example algebra or English literature), religiously neutral? Hence if ID were science rather than religion wouldn’t it be just as secular as evolution? Or is the good Dr intending to use it to prove the existence of his God?

So Dr Noble, to repeat yet again, evolution is religiously neutral. There is a flap about teaching it because despite the fact it is strongly supported evidence based science, it contradicts a literal reading of
the first few pages of the Bible. And because that upsets a very vocal few whose faith is so tenuous that it hinges solely on those few pages being literal, they are demanding we pretend there are problems with evolution. The flap is to ensure that they are not allowed to distort the truth and deny children
their right to an education just to ensure their eccentric beliefs remain unchallenged. That is the first step on a very slippery slope indeed.

There are also lots of repetitions of the usual tired old claims that ID is science without actually mentioning how or why it is science; the regular impenetrable DNA and information waffling, yet more irreducible complexity claims and the usual references to some hard sums done by a preacher man who
used to do maths. These have already been debunked by Grumpy Bob here on 17th October blog. Or for more scientists explaining why ID isn’t science, but this time in a courtroom try here.

And whilst in the interests of balance I should provide a link to something supporting Noble’s ‘ID is science’ stance I can’t. Despite searching the plethora of ID sites like the good Dr Nobles own C4ID or Uncommon Descent I can find nothing beyond scientific articles filched from genuine scientists followed by a ‘wow that looks complicated’. No evidence FOR design, no testing FOR design, no explanations of how one would test FOR design nothing beyond incredulity. And like Behe at Dover, they all completely ignore any science that illustrates the evolution of many of these complex things.

However it’s when Noble really goes into high dudgeon mode that things get amusing. For example:
“If a scientific theory cannot be sustained on the basis of the available evidence, what message does
it send to students when the force of law is required? Presumably then, if in a biology class, a pupil asks a question about ID, the teacher would have to say that it is illegal to proceed with the question. And at what point does the teacher call the police to deal with any persistent enquirers? Some science
No Dr Noble! ID is not science; the aim of the campaign is to prevent folk like Dr Noble pushing it as science rather than religion to further their religious aims. So Dr Noble, if in a biology class a pupil asks a question about ID, the teacher does not have to hush them up, call the police or put the fear of a designer into them. All the teacher has to do is to do is point them to the RE department, point out that ID does not satisfy the requirements of science, that it is purely a religious notion and therefore part of the remit of the RE teacher. If however a teacher decides to abuse their position for the purposes of proselytising and claims ID is scientific something can be done about it. No more, no less.

It also ensures that RE teachers, who do not have scientific backgrounds, are cognisant of the fact that ID is not science which should help them teach it more effectively and prevent them from inadvertently misleading children.
“If evolution requires the weight of the law, what about atomic theory? Does it need legal protection
against, say, quantum theory undermining the particulate nature of matter? Or the Big Bang?"
Not really Dr Noble, for the simple reason that you don’t have any religious objections to those parts of science, therefore don’t want to single them out for the special disparagement you reserve for evolution. So they do not need protection from religious interference.
“Do we need laws to ensure that the steady state theory does not make a comeback? And global
warming? Do we need the law to ensure that climate sceptics don’t produce any embarrassing evidence?"
If the evidence swings back to steady state it will come back and nobody will be able to prevent it. However it disappeared because the evidence for it was outweighed by the evidence for Big Bang. In the unlikely event that Dr Noble is reading this, the pertinent point is evidence. ID has none. And another point he may wish to consider is that Big Bang was also considered by many to have theological and philosophical implications. That has not stopped it being taught.

And it is very interesting that Dr Noble has mentioned global warming as, along with creationism, the other cause celebre of the fundamentalist fringe of religion seems to be climate change denial. I
sincerely wonder how so called good Christians like Dr Noble reconcile this denial with the fact it will be the poorest on this Earth that will be hit hardest and soonest if their denials prevent timely action. And may I just add that if the climate sceptics could produce embarrassing evidence to prove the growing consensus wrong, nobody would be more thrilled than that consensus.

Does Noble actually think they’ve chosen to be the harbingers of doom solely to thwart the devout oil producers of the Bible belt?
“The whole proposition of legal enforcement is based on a failure to recognise that all scientific theories are ultimately tentative and may be updated or amended in the light of fresh evidence. The very recent doubts of the CERN scientists about the limiting position of the speed of light is a case in point”
This is an interesting point, given Nobles repeated assertions about allowing ID into the classroom because ultimately the scientific consensus can be overturned. And yes, those faster than light
neutrinos, if genuine rather than error, have possibly illustrated the tentative nature of science. Now speedy neutrinos may not yet have found their way onto the A level physics syllabus-education tends to deal with the well established or well established disagreements and there is a time lag, but there can be no doubt that excitable physics teachers and a lot of A level students have discussed it, without fear of the law or petitions by mean atheists. Such discussion is not frowned upon but encouraged as the cutting edge is always interesting. And if the finding is genuine, I suspect it will warrant inclusion
in subsequent curriculum rewrites. So why not ID?

Well Dr Noble seems to have missed several very important points. The first being the neutrino discovery was made by cutting edge scientists from the relevant discipline-physics. Moreover these leading scientists were working at CERN, one of the best research centres in the world
in that area of science. ID on the other hand boasts Behe, Dembski and a few others who are not only very much NOT at the cutting edges of their disciplines, but in many cases are either in disciplines totally unrelated to the claims made for ID or are no longer working in science (Noble is a chemist who has worked in education for years). In addition, whilst Behe is employed by a university in the relevant science, it has publicly distanced itself from his ID stance, suggesting he is not using their laboratory facilities for his ID research. Nor has he published anything that POSITIVELY supports his notion of a designer.

As for the places where ID is discussed? In the UK it would appear to be the Elim Pentecostal Conference Centre in Malvern. Now the Vatican may boast some world class observatories and scientists, but the Elim Pentecostal Conference Centre does not. The Elim Pentacostals are a
fundamentalist Christian Sect. They are largely creationist. Their Conference Centre is an unlikely venue for world class scientists to gather to discuss cutting edge science on the brink of overturning the consensus.

Secondly, though the speeding neutrinos made it into popular media, the people to whom the findings were initially presented were the scientific peers of those who originally found them. The people who will dissect and examine their work will be their equals in expertise and education. They did not rush straight to the Dept of Education and demand Einstein be debated and their findings reviewed by 14 year olds who had made a few circuits and slid a few toy cars past a light gate or two! The results of that expert debate may eventually be presented to schoolchildren, but that will be because it has been done by scientists for scientists and judged on its scientific merits first! ID ‘scientists’ on the other hand seem far keener on their work being judged by pre GCSE students than by the scientific community. They are not operating to the protocols required by science, ID is not science!

“I cannot believe that British science is so unsure of itself that it has come to this.”
Neither can I Dr Noble. I cannot believe that in the 21st century we’d have to protect the cumulated knowledge from thousands of years of scientific endeavour from an ancient, scientifically illiterate piece of writing!

Of course it wouldn’t be an ID article without recourse to abiogenesis.
“Prof Richard Dawkins himself insists that living systems “give the appearance of having been
designed for a purpose”. But he also admits that he does not know how life originated. How can he possibly know, therefore, that the apparent design in nature is not real?”
Yes we do not know YET how life originated. However it is an area of intense and fruitful research encompassing many scientific disciplines bar one-ID. Oops that isn’t a scientific discipline.

If the good Dr Noble wishes to examine whether the apparent design in nature is real the answer is
simple. Get ID ‘scientists’ to engage in some research. Yes that’s right. If you want to be taken seriously in science-do some serious science. Come up with some serious hypotheses; come up with some serious evidence. Go show how the apparent design in nature can be tested and proved. Because at the moment there is NO ID science, there is NO ID research and one day the origin of life gap in
our knowledge will be filled just like the other gaps such as the evolution of the Bacterial Flagellum.

The onus is on ID to prove design not on real science to just stop searching because they say it’s so.
But it is Nobles concluding paragraph that really nails the ID argument.

The Nazism card.
“I have often wondered how a sophisticated country like 20th-century Germany fell prey to Nazi
domination of its national life. I think I can see that once you start legislating for the promotion of one particular theory over another, you suppress debate and start purveying propaganda. Surely not in 21st century Britain which so values free speech and open enquiry? I sincerely hope not.”
I believe there is theory called Godwin’s law that says you bring up the Nazis when you've lost the argument? So I’m not sure how to respond to this. However seeing as it is Noble who has rather unwisely brought it up where shall I start!

Could Germany have fallen prey to Nazi domination because there was a proliferation of unsubstantiated propaganda infiltrating all areas of public life-including and especially schools? Was it because they allowed unsubstantiated, simplistic, irrational and emotional arguments to be targeted at those who hadn't the expertise to see through them before they’d been reviewed and validated by those that did? Propaganda that allowed ridiculous ideas for which there was neither evidence nor credibility to be debated as equals alongside valid, evidence based ones?

The call to prevent ID being taught as science is not stifling any debate-merely pointing out that it is grossly unfair to present something as valid science to schoolchildren when it is anything but. Dr Noble and his ID pals are free to come up with some science to prove, support or even test for design. They are free to present it to their scientific peers for approval. And if it ever reaches the level of science then
education will have no choice but to include it on the science curriculum. How often does it have to be said, science education is for the teaching of science! ID has yet to prove itself scientific.

Compare Dr Noble’s emotional appeals about the persecution of ID and his incorrect accusations
that it is all an atheist plot with your average text on evolution with its scientific language and inconvenient heaps of real evidence and draw your own conclusions about who is purveying propaganda.

I would never dream of likening Noble or the proponents of ID to the Nazis, but seeing as Noble himself has brought them up perhaps he could ignore for a moment the political evil of their propaganda and just consider the fact that its purveyors shared a narrow political agenda, an arrogant assumption they were right whatever the costs to humanity and a deep need to indoctrinate others.

Perhaps he could then take on board two very simple facts that he refuses to acknowledge. Those who accept evolution and oppose ID come from every area of religious and political belief and opinion because their objections are based on the fact it is not what it claims to be-science. Those who support ID/creationism and reject evolution are drawn almost exclusively from the narrowest, most bigoted and intolerant fringes of Christianity. All of whom share an unshakeable belief in a literal reading of
the book of Genesis, who are arrogant enough to think they alone are right whatever the subsequent cost to humanity of teaching folk to reject science and who need to indoctrinate others as that is what their narrow sub sect of Christianity dictates. Then I would ask him to consider who is purveying propaganda. And I would remind him, lest he use it as an argument against me, that I am not likening him to the Nazis, nor saying his propaganda is like Nazi propaganda-merely that he is the one with the agenda pushing an ideology with no supporting evidence to schoolchildren and church congregations rather than to scientists and real scientific journals.

Then there is the simple fact that he is mixing up theory, which Evolution is and ID isn't, with ideology, which Nazism is. There is no attempt to suppress ID as a theory, because it isn’t a theory it is an ideology and a religious position. The last item in my litany of criticisms of Nobles hypocrisy in playing the Nazi card is hidden deep within the roots of ID. Nazism was an attempt to impose a new world order. It wished to overthrow society and replace it with its own politics and beliefs. There would be no room for dissent and no freedom of thought and no real tolerance of difference and no real rights for certain groups.

The roots of intelligent design, it would appear, lie within in the murky depths of an organisation called the Discovery Institute and its ‘wedge strategy’. And the Discovery Institute it would appear is also quite keen on new world orders and imposing their particular narrow brand of morality and beliefs upon society. Using ID theory as the wedge to first crack the notion of science as it is and "replace it with science consonant with Christian and theistic conviction"..

It is difficult to read the wedge strategy document as anything other than an attempt to impose upon society the conservative Christian values of the fundamentalist religious right. And for anyone who doesn’t know what conservative Christian fundamentalist values are, think religious control of education and religious control of laws such as those on sexuality, abortion or divorce. Think discrimination against women, gays, atheists and non Christian religions. In short think intolerance, bigotry and removal of hard won rights and freedoms-things that really only exist when the state is free from religious control. It isn’t Nazism; unlike Dr Noble I’m not likening it to Nazism. But it would appear to be using ID propaganda as a means to a new world order.

Consider some of the aspirations this wedge strategy has for the ‘ID is just science-nothing else, it definitely isn’t religion’ theory: “Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies”, “..we also seek to build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely, Chnstians. We will do this primarily through apologetics seminars. We intend these to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidence's that support the faith, as well as to "popularize" our ideas in the broader culture”.
Consider its long term goals:

"Long Term Goals
  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.

  • To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.
Spiritual & cultural renewal:
  • Major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation & repudiate(s)

  • Positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God"
I live in a secular state. That is not, as creationist and ID proponents so often like to suggest, an atheist state. It is one where the individual is free to believe or not believe whatever they wish-privately. It is a state that does NOT promote one persons beliefs over another and everyone has the equal protection of the law. It is not perfect, nothing is, but it is a hell of a lot better than living under any political or religious dictatorship.

ID is not science, it is a religious position. As such state education should not favour it with inclusion in science lessons unless it is also going to give equal time to other religiously or supernaturally motivated pseudoscientific claims. My children can make free and informed choices about what to believe, because the state will not indoctrinate them. Though I would hope atheism, if they choose any moderate version of religion I will be perfectly happy. And if they do choose to embrace ID/creationism at least I will know it is an informed decision to reject science. I will know that at least they had the opportunity to learn objective science free from the confusion of religious interference. What Dr Noble proposes removes that opportunity.

The role of education is to enable children to grow up with the skills and knowledge to make informed decisions and form informed opinions. Allowing a narrowly focused group with a specific agenda to interfere with that process would be my definition of propaganda. And ID proponents are drawn from a very narrow focus with a very specific agenda!

I would not have raised the Wedge Strategy’s use of ID as a means to a possible theocratic end had Noble not played the Nazi card. I would have felt it unfair to tar C4ID and other ID proponents with such a distasteful brush. However if Noble is going to play the Nazi card then he cannot complain when it invites very unfavourable comparisons indeed! And for most thinking people the horrors of Discovery Institute’s theocratic ambition is very unfavourable.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

News - Down but not out - Creationist Church says they will apply to run a Free School again

From the NSS;
Creationist church remains resolute in pursuit of free school
An evangelical church with creationist beliefs in Newark (Notts) which had its free school application turned down has pledged to continue making every effort possible to see a new school set up.
As previously reported, the Everyday Champions Church in Newark had its plans to open a 625-pupil secondary school turned down last week. We now know that the Department of Education rejected their application over concerns about creationism.

The ECC statement can be seen here.

Monday, 17 October 2011

No matter what C4ID says, Intelligent Design creationism isn't sciencedoesn't get science

From Wonderful connection with the proposal that Intelligent Design creationism should be legally excluded from inclusion in UK science lessons, a blog article by James Williams, and a weak riposte by Alastair Noble...why C4ID's claims that Intelligent Design creationism is science are wide of the mark.
Dr Alastair Noble has penned a rather defensive article at the C4ID website, in response to James Williams’ recent blog concerning some radio discussions he had had with Noble (Intelligent Design Creationism is not Science). Unlike Williams’ blog (and this one), the C4ID website does not brook any comment, preferring to push their line of reasoning unchallenged.
I have a number of comments and observations relating to the latest Noble epistle and in particular in relation to Intelligent Design creationism as an alternative to an evolutionary explanation of life’s diversity For my rebuttal of many of C4ID’s claims about ID as an alternative to evolutionary biology, see my article “C4ID’s Introduction to Intelligent Design: A critique”.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Creationist Questions about Evolution (not)

In the Guardian Andrew Brown answers some questions from a creationist.

As I say, the interesting thing about all these objections is that hardly any of them bear directly on the theory of descent with modification. They are all variations of "Why are we here?" with different kinds of "Why" for an answer. Two of them do bear directly on Darwin's theory of evolution and have been conclusively answered by it: "How can you have design without a designer?" and "How to create intelligence from non-intelligence?"
Question seven is completely bogus.
The other four seem to operate in the disputed marshlands between science and philosophy. But his crucial argument seems to be 'The atheist sees design but refuses to accept that there can be a designer'. If I wanted to refute that, I wouldn't send him to Richard Dawkins, but the American Carl Zimmer, whose book Parasite Rex is a glorious, terrifying, and intermittently disgusting romp through the roots, the intestines, and even the eyeballs of almost all living things to discover what else lives inside them. These parasites are unquestionably designed for their purpose, and designed with extraordinary ingenuity. They kill millions of children every year. I really cannot imagine that anyone, knowing the facts of their existence, could believe they were designed by a loving creator for a moral purpose. Evolution is not God's enemy but his greatest alibi.

Friday, 14 October 2011

C4IDs Dr Noble responds to Attenborough-in the style of a creationist.

It’s been little under a year since the brand new Centre for Intelligent Design C4ID opened in the UK to

“Promote public understanding of ID and its implications”.

“To promote professional investigations and public debate around ID”

And to prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that

ID is definitely not creationism.”

Amidst the fanfare of publicity surrounding its launch, director Alastair Noble was keen to demonstrate ID as a scientific theory and to distance it from any religious connotations. In fact the slick website even included a FAQ section where questions such as

“Isn’t ID just a religious, philosophical argument rather than a scientific one?”

 Were answered with a resounding

No. Theists believe the entire universe is best explained by an intelligent cause, but that is not something that can be scientifically verified. Intelligent Design theory is not philosophical or religious-it is limited to what can be demonstrated scientifically.”

Given the religious affiliations and creationist past histories of those involved in C4ID, the obvious question was could they respond to challenges in the measured, rational way required to maintain that positive ‘secular’ spin? Or would their years immersed in the ranting and foaming at the mouth world of creationism prove to be their undoing? Well now that question has been answered, and it would appear that at the first sign of trouble they resort to form and reveal beyond all shadow of doubt that ID is just creationism’s pretend secular sibling.

The challenge came in the form of the moderately worded so called Attenborough letter, signed by 30 scientists and supported by Ekklesia and ASE, asking that ID/Creationism should not be taught as science. Any half decent PR guru would have responded in equally moderate secular tones. Any half decent PR guru would have remembered their remit-to present ID as not religion-and avoided references to the beliefs of either their critics or themselves. It would appear that C4ID is bereft of half decent PR gurus! Check out Alastair Noble's startling, ranting and raving press release in response - a document rich in the words and tones of traditional creationist rhetoric.

Its unpromising start states:

“Richard Dawkins and Sir David Attenborough want the government to ban creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) theory from the classroom. Such a move shows a disturbing lack of understanding of both the nature of scientific theory and of science education, responds the Centre for Intelligent Design.”

But surely ID and creationism are different things. Why the ID website itself contains the following:

ID theory is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the appearance of design in nature-which is acknowledged by virtually all biologists-is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause)......Creationism is based on finding scientific evidence to defend the entire creation account in the Bible (or for Muslims the Koran).”

So why is Noble not pointing out that they are different in his all important press release? In fact why is he not in agreement with the ban on creationism in the science  classroom, since he himself has pointed out it is based on finding evidence for a religious position?

Much later on Noble states:

“The Centre for Intelligent Design notes that it is no coincidence that both Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough are prominent atheists.  The Centre believes that the introduction of religious or philosophical ideas into the debate is contrary to the spirit of science which should not be exploited in pursuit of a secular or atheistic agenda."

And how is the fact that Dawkins and Attenborough are prominent atheists relevant to the science of a theory like ID which merely attempts to detect whether the appearance of design is genuine? If ID is NOT based on “finding scientific evidence to defend the creation account in the Bible”, and C4ID state it isn’t, then why is Dawkins non belief relevant?

 In addition neither Dawkins nor Attenborough have called for any religious or philosophical ideas to be introduced into science education! They have merely stated that two ideas, creationism and ID, which have yet to prove themselves in the scientific arena, should not be taught as valid science until they do.  As the so called ‘scientists’ involved in ID have yet to convince their scientific peers that they are valid scientific positions, surely Attenborough and Dawkins are right. In fact surely the paucity of any of the standards of science in ID (its lack of predictions, methodology, genuine peer review and evidence to name but a fraction) means that Dawkins and Attenborough are in fact attempting to prevent the introduction of purely philosophical and religious ideas into science!!

ID needs a lot of work, well actually it needs a miracle, before it becomes remotely close to approaching even the rigours required to be called bad science. Until it does it remains a philosophical, religious, God of the Gaps discussion alongside Paley in A level RE.

If Noble is suggesting that it is Dawkins and Attenborough’s atheism that presents the religious or philosophical ideas that concern him, it should be noted they are not calling for atheism or anything else to be introduced into the debate or the science classroom either. It is simply not relevant. Noble knows that ID has been thoroughly rejected as science on purely scientific grounds. He should be particularly aware of that fact because its wholesale rejection has, in no small part, been due to the efforts of devoutly theist scientists such as Francis Collins and Ken Miller. If that fact ever changes then and only then will his paranoid persecution complex be justified. There is NO secular or atheist agenda.

And Noble also states:

“All attempts by Richard Dawkins to indoctrinate children with an ‘evolution only’ education spring from a secularising agenda. As he himself admits, Darwin made it possible for him to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist. Professor Dawkins thus has a vested interest in promoting evolution, and therefore cannot be taken seriously as an objective voice on this matter.”

A bizarre argument given that, as Noble later acknowledges, the campaign has the support of Ekklesia a Christian think tank. Then there is the fact that two of the biggest critics of ID, Miller and Collins are avowed Christians.

Popes, priests, vicars, bishops and many Christians from many different denominations happily accept evolution as the only current rational explanation for the data and evidence. That acceptance makes not one iota of difference to their faith. What is pertinent to the atheism of Dawkins is irrelevant to someone else’s lack of faith. We all have our own reasons for belief or lack of it.

Then there is the fact that C4ID claim again and again that ID is the scientific search for intelligent causation, not to prove the existence of the Christian God. If that is really the case then why should it be any different to evolution? If it ever attained scientific credibility and convinced me of intelligent causation, it would not Nobles Christian God that I’d assume was responsible.

So Dr Noble, evolution is taught because it is a well supported scientific theory that is of supreme importance to the understanding of biology NOT as an attempt to deny the existence of God or Gods. Both theists and atheists are happily engaged in researching, teaching and learning about it. Dr Noble’s ID on the other hand, only commands the support of people at the fundamentalist end of the religious spectrum. It is Noble that wishes to introduce a religious idea, it is Noble that has the agenda, it is Noble that has a vested religious interest in promoting ID and it is Noble that therefore cannot be taken seriously as an objective voice in this matter.

“Dawkins argues that ID should not be taken seriously because its main protagonists are theists. But we don’t hear him arguing that by the same token evolution should not be taken seriously because its main protagonists are atheists.”

This strange statement would suggest that Dawkins rejects ID merely because its protagonists are theists. Two points need mentioning here. The first is why are the main proponents of a so called empirical scientific position only theists? Both atheists and theists accept the evidence for evolution or indeed atoms, gravity, quantum mechanics and so on. If it is only theists, and indeed only a minority of theists from the more fundamentalist and extreme fringes of faith, that take ID seriously then the onus is on Dr Noble to examine why this is the case and not simply bandy accusations. After all ID is quick to point out that the intelligent cause does not have to be the Christian God, so atheism alone should present no barrier to it.

The second is that Dawkins quite happily accepts the science of theists when it qualifies as good science, the science of evolutionary protagonist and devout theist Francis Collins for example. Dawkins does not refuse to take the parts of the genome that Collins had a hand in sequencing seriously because Collins is a theist.

Then there is that other famous evolutionary protagonist and devout theist, Ken Miller. Miller, who not only scientifically showed that Behe’s claims for an irreducibly complex bacterial flagellum were nonsense, but who also made mincemeat of IDs claim to be science in the courts at Dover.  Not only does Dawkins take Miller’s science very seriously indeed, he has made a big thing in at least two of his books (The God Delusion and The Ancestors Tale) of Millers faith. Dawkins may not like or respect the religious beliefs of scientists, but where their science is sound, he both accepts and respects it! And when they have a major hand in shredding the nonsense of ID/creationism he positively revels in the irony of it.

ID is rejected because it is NOT science!! It is rejected because it is NOT credible!!

Noble goes on with much in the same vein, adding spurious facts like:

“The British Humanist Association (BHA) is one of the five organisations behind the campaign, along with Ekklesia – a liberal theological pressure group that has a long history of opposing criticism of evolution. And the list of signatories reveals that many of the supporters are indeed atheists. The BHA aims to remove God from the curriculum, and is therefore afraid of any theory like ID that has theological implications."

Ignoring the fact that Ekklesia is a Christian think tank, composed of Christians, the BHA does not aim to remove God from the curriculum. God is not part of the science curriculum anyway so cannot be removed from there. Nor is He part of the history, english, maths or DT curriculum. God is discussed in RE, the discussion of God in RE is not a part of this campaign-this campaign only aims to prevent children being taught the lie that creationism and ID are scientifically valid positions.

Not only does this campaign not refer to removing God from the curriculum at all, but Dawkins has recently come out in support of the continued teaching of RE. I think Noble may only wish his version of God to remain on the curriculum but that is just tough.

But what exactly are Nobles suggestions for science education. Well here is a selection from his many paragraphs ranting on a similar theme:

“If this was about the integrity of science education", says Dr Alastair Noble[1], director of the Centre, "then they would be campaigning for students to have access to all the scientific evidence about evolution and origins – including the positive evidence for design in nature and the evidence both for and against evolution. Scientific theories are only credible if they take account of all the evidence."

This is incomprehensible as students already have access to all the scientific evidence that we have. I suspect what Noble really means is the inclusion of ID religious indoctrination and propaganda from those with a religious agenda.

If evidence for ID is to be presented, Noble first needs to provide some. But ask for positive evidence for design and he will give you the ‘it looks complicated so couldn’t have evolved’ line, or perhaps introduce you to some maths that completely ignore the rather important contribution of natural selection to evolution. I’ve searched the C4ID website; there is NO positive evidence for design to present to students at all. Not only that but there are no predictions, there are no hypotheses, no ways of testing for design-all you will find there are articles about things that look complicated hence evolution must be wrong. Oh and I forgot to add, there is no logic there either.

There is NO real evidence against evolution to present to students. They are told what we do and don’t know about origins. What Noble wants is a fraudulent pretence to suit his religious beliefs. That is neither fair nor honest.

“The 30 scientists who have signed up to the ‘Evolution not Creationism’ statement are attempting to prevent students from hearing the rational, well-evidenced arguments that cast doubt on neo-Darwinism.”

If such arguments exist the place to air them is before experts in evolution. The place for such arguments is via the peer review system. Schoolchildren have neither the skills nor expertise to see through them. They are not the arbiters of science. However, thus far, neither creationism nor ID has come up with any rational arguments to cast doubt on Darwinism, neo or otherwise. They have said absolutely nothing that any half decent scientist hasn’t been able to rip to pieces. I can only assume that is the rationale behind their strange notion to present their ideas to pre-GCSE students instead. Get them before they know enough to criticise and confuse them so they’ll never learn enough to do so.

“Students also need to understand the provisional nature of the scientific consensus. Science is not done by consensus. Indeed, students should be aware that some crucial scientific discoveries were made by individuals who challenged the consensus. The reality of science is that one individual scientist with sound evidence can trump the consensus."

The key words in that sentence boys and girls? Sound and evidence, ID has yet to produce sound evidence. In fact ID has yet to produce any of the other things required by science, like predictions, a testable hypothesis or method of looking for design. All it is thus far is a God of gaps religious stance. That is the reason for the Attenborough letter.

"Prof Dawkins oft-repeated claim that full-scale evolution is “as solidly demonstrated as any fact in science” is largely a rhetorical position, which well outruns the evidence.  Intelligent Design theory may not yet be the mainstream view of science, but it has a solid scientific evidenced base of which students have a right to be aware. A truly rigorous scientific approach to education would be to inform students of all the views, evidence and arguments surrounding the origin and development of life. Censorship is inherently anti-scientific."

Evolution is currently the only theory which explains all the data and evidence we have. And there is rather a lot of evidence. It is far from a rhetorical position. Until something comes along to falsify it is our only explanation. And should that happen, ID and creationism do not automatically become the default positions.

ID has been exposed in the courts as religion rather than science-it has been shown to have no solid science at all behind it. A truly rigorous scientific approach to education does inform students of all the valid views, evidence and arguments. What Noble doesn’t seem to realise is that until ID proves itself in the scientific world its views and arguments are not valid. If the unsubstantiated, faith based claims of ID were to be included in education then why not all the other equally invalid claims of astrology, clairvoyance or magic? There is no difference. Teach none or teach them all. Noble has to accept that.

Until ID comes up with some evidence there is nothing to present to students. Censorship is not the issue, protecting children from nonsense and propaganda is. We do not allow holocaust deniers into history classes. They deny the very real evidence to suit their political agendas. The evidence denied by IDers may be scientific rather than political, and their agenda may be religious, but in every other respect they are no different to holocaust deniers.

The inanity of this next statement left me speechless:

“No scientific theory needs or should have the compulsion of law. And no programme of science education can afford to rule some illegal, The proposition that a scientific curriculum should be the subject of legal or quasi-legal enforcement is based on a failure to recognise that all scientific theories are ultimately tentative questions.”

What utter nonsense. The curriculum is presented to children, of course it needs to be regulated and subject to some legal constraints. Children have a right, at least within schools, to protection from crackpot notions and propaganda, be it religious, political or commercial.

As for the notion that scientific theories are ultimately tentative - children are taught that, alongside the fact that the ones they are taught are pretty well supported by evidence. What Noble really means by that statement is schools do not single out evolution for special treatment merely because of his religious objection to it. If all scientific theories were to be subjected to the level of scrutiny that Noble wants for evolution there would cease to be any science left.


“If creationism and ID are unscientific, pupils should be allowed to explore the evidence if they wish to see why."

But there is no evidence. There is no science. There is nothing for them to explore. Education does not exist to give credibility to nonsense! As for ID, all Noble needed in that press release was a paradigm and a worldview and he’d have scored a full house in creationist word bingo. Though he may not realise it, with this press release Noble has proved beyond all doubt that ID and creationism are one and the same, and ID protagonists merely creationists.


Monday, 3 October 2011

Growing up in a Creationist world

From the Guardian:

We learned that evolution had no scientific support from young-Earth creationists like Henry Morris and Ken Ham. 
. . . 
We learned that homosexuality is a choice made by people to live in sin, under Satan's influence.
. . . 
Christian "historians" like Peter Marshall and David Barton helped us understand that America was a "Christian nation" and that recent travails, like the social upheaval of the 1960s that gave us drug abuse, promiscuity, and the homosexual agenda, were the result of abandoning America's religious roots.
. . . 
There are, fortunately, many evangelical scholars – National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins and historian Mark Noll come to mind – who are quietly raising alarms about all this dangerous anti-intellectualism, warning us about populist gurus who are marketing a "Christianised" version of knowledge that, on closer examination, turns out to be neither Christian nor knowledge.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Insulting jokes

UD continue the theme of revealing their true nature with an insulting joke about a scientist;
A bedtime story for non-DarwinistsOnce upon a time, a bush plane (Air Bear) was bravely buffeting the winds in the far north. Besides the pilot, there were three people: An important evolutionary psychologist, who was going up north to study the impact of the selfish gene on the human biota; the Prime Minister, who was attempting to settle a potentially violent dispute about hunting lodge rights, and a little girl, who was joining her physician parents at an outpost medical clinic.
The pilot had a heart attack at the controls. No one else knew how to fly a plane, or land it.
Inconveniently, there were only two parachutes.
The evolutionary biologist jumped up and started shrieking, “I am the most brilliant scientist of all time! My selfish genes must be passed on! You don’t count.” He grabbed one of the packages and jumped out of the plane.
The Prime Minister turned to the little girl and said, “My dear, listen. I have a very important job. But someone else could do it. I’m an old man. You have your whole life ahead of you. You must take the parachute, and I will help you out of the plane.”
The little girl said, “ Not to worry, Mr. Prime Minister. There is a parachute for each of us. The most brilliant scientist of all time has just grabbed my school backpack and jumped out of the plane.”