Thursday, December 22, 2005

What is the message?

The Court considered a good number of things in coming to its decision in Kitzmiller &al. v. Dover Board of Education &al. Among those things was the endorsement test. As Judge Jones put it, The endorsement test consists of the reviewing court determining what message a challenged governmental policy or enactment conveys to a reasonable, objective observer who knows the policy's language, origins, and legislative history, as well as the history of the community and the broader social and historical context in which the policy arose.

We have heard that phrase, "What message is given," frequently in discussions of the statement read to the Dover students. Some people argue that the message is straightforward, that it suggests merely suggests there are weaknesses in evolutionary theory and that some people think that a different explanation, such as Intelligent Design, is more likely correct.

Scientists and others who have followed the Creationist battles against evolution over the years recognize the clever tactics embedded in the statement. Judge Jones recognized them as well, and clearly spelled them out in his decision. The reasonable observer described by Judge Jones would recognize them also.

Now I wonder--did the members of the Dover Area School Board recognize the tactics of denial, delusion, and deceit that characterize the Intelligent Design movement? If so, they acted in a most shamefully dishonest manner. I have an alternative hypothesis: I suspect the Board members had little real understanding of Intelligent Design and its advocates, but instead, saw ID to be simply a way of bringing Creationism into the classroom. They may have missed the nudge and the wink when ID proponents said it had nothing to do with religion, and just might possibly have made the religious connection on their own. If this is true, then so much of the history of ID described in testamony would be irrelevant. But if the message that the board members got really was as I've just described, isn't it likely that the students would perceive the same message--that Creationism (as described in Genesis) is the alternative to ungodly evolution? And that still would be government endorsing a particular religious view.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Dover decision

Judge John E. Jones III released his ruling in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District et al., argued in the U.S. Disctrict Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania today. The judgement in favor of the plaintiffs comes as no surprise, but the opinion is extremely satisfying in how it restores my faith that at least part of our system of government is working and on the level.

Compressing the lengthy decision into a nutshell, Judge Jones was not bamboozled by the proponents of Intelligent Design Creationism. As his opinion states, he recognized that there is no science in ID; ID is just Creation Science relabelled to avoid the Creationism prohibition (Consitutional anti-establishment clause); and school board members who were pushing for ID had pro-Creationism histories and shamefully lied to the Court in an effort to cover up the true motivations of the board decision to introduce ID.

Despite Judge Jones' clear opinion, Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center ("the sword and shield for people of faith"), interviewed tonight on The News Hour (PBS), tried to debate the issue anew, and claimed Intelligent Design Creationism is about science, not religion. What science did he bring up to support his contention that there is a scientific theory of Intelligent Design? The musty, dusty duo: the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting cascade.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bird-flu mortality and Intelligent Design

A piece aired on National Public Radio yesterday discussed what appeared to be an alarming mortality rate in humans due to the H5N1 virus (bird flu): 50 percent. Certainly sounds scary should there be a pandemic among humans, with human-to-human transmission, should that occur. This figure, however, is very much higher than scientists expect would be the case should a pandemic develop. For one thing, the 50-percent mortality rate reported is for cases where the persons were known to be infected by bird-to-human transmission of H5N1, and likely does not include a significant number of cases that escaped identification (in part because of mild or lacking symptoms). Anthony Fauci, director of the Nation Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, went on to explain that viruses that evolve to permit human-to-human transmission become less virulent (they wouldn't be able to spread very well if they killed all of the victims before infecting others)--this is a characteristic of evolution. This was seen in the case of the infamous pandemic of 1918, in which the mortality rate was nearer 1.5 to 2 percent.

So here's another example of the utility of evolutionary theory. Based on what we know about how evolution works, we can make predictions (H5N1 may very well evolve the capacity for human-to-human transmission; and, if it does, it will very likely evolve decreased virulence. What predictions can the assertion of Intelligent Design Creationism make about this virus and its effect on humans?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Prepare to adjust your compass

Uh-oh...according to a report presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union this week, Earth's north magnetic pole, long known to be "wandering," seems to have decided to get out of town and has been picking up its pace. Joseph Stoner of Oregon State University presented data indicating the pole has picked up speed over the past century and is heading for Siberia. (Before the fall of the Iron Curtain we would have been sure this was a Commie plot; these days, it must be Liberals or Evilutionists who are conspiring to steal the northern lights from Alaska.)

When I consider that recently certain politicians and wingnuts have been speaking and writing nonsense, such that they are frequently characterized as claiming "down is up," I suppose it should come as no surprise if the Earth experiences a magnetic reversal. The last reversal occurred about 780,000 years ago. Hmmm. I thought the wingnuts only wanted to bring things back to the way they were about 1,000 years ago.

(Thanks to Eurekalert for the warning!)