Thursday, May 7, 2009

Joel Walker Pwns Don McLeroy

Joel Walker, a fiscally and socially conservative churchgoing Republican with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics who is running for the College Station, Texas, Schools' Board of Trustees, has written a wonderful response to another of Texas BOE Chairman Don McLeroy's ignorant screeds. The final paragraph sums it up nicely:

Admitting some few exceptions, the considered verdict on these matters among active researchers in the relevant fields is settled, with a statistical weight approaching unanimity. It is inappropriate to ask our high school students to sit in their judgment; we must first simply educate them as to what has been learned. Surely the ultimate truths of science are not up for, nor are ever settled by, a vote of men. As a practical matter however, the science standards of our state are up for vote once each decade. An entrenched mindset bordering on reflexive antipathy to the opinions of our most distinguished scholars has no place on our State Board of Education. It is not in keeping with the mission of the Texas Education Code nor does it well serve the obligations of that high post to our students and citizenry. The struggle continues, with biology texts up for approval in 2011. We must vote with vigilance to achieve sound representation.

You can read more about it here, as well as some of the heat McLeroy is getting over the embarrassment he is bringing to Texas. Typically creationists involved in education get the boot politically once their views become public, so let's hope McLeroy is booted out on his butt as he so richly deserves. Let's also hope Governor Rick Perry gets a little political heat for appointing such a grossly unqualified person in the first place. One might as well appoint a blind man to be head of the snipers.


ronaldo said...

One problem I see with Joel Walker's fine article (and it indeed was good) is that he suitably criticizes YEC, but the "question at hand regards the teaching of Intelligent Design in the science classrooms." Even though there's plenty of overlap, most of the ID leaders are not YECs.

"Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups."

I wish authors were more clear to their readers and students when they mean "real transitional forms" and when they mean "transitional form /candidates/."

Finally, I wonder how the following quotation would go over in a science classroom today. I found it on a science-debate blog. On the one hand, it might stir up unwanted attitudes in the classroom, but on the other hand, it might encourage students to stay humble about their knowledge:
"The geosynclinal theory is one of the great unifying principles in geology. In many ways its role in geology is similar to that of the theory of evolution, which serves to integrate the many branches of the biological sciences. . . . Just as the doctrine of evolution is universally accepted among biologists, so also the geosynclinal origin of the major mountain systems is an established principle in geology."

Clark and Stearn biology textbook "Geological Evolution of North America" from 1960, p. 43. (Geosynclinal theory was subsequently overturned by plate techtonics.)

ScienceAvenger said...

ID is just creationism (when I say creationism I mean it very broadly to include all the forms of evolution denial that imply the need for some sort of nonhuman creator to do things evolution supposedly can't) trimmed of its obviously religious content in an attempt to pass political muster. I know that's sort of like skipping to the end of a book and spoiling the plot, but I won't play this game of pretending ID is some independent scientific exercise apart from YEC. YEC is ID's father. Had YEC won Edwards vs Aguilar, ID would never have existed.

One reason people can't be more clear about transitional forms is because the term is extremely poorly defined. In a real sense, everything that is alive is a transitional form, from whatever it was to whatever it will become. We have a rough sense of what we mean when we use it, just like we do with "species", but there is no objective definition (beyond "A was B's descendent and C's ancestor, so A is transitional between B and C"), so this gap between "real" transitional forms and candidates isn't as real as you're making it unless you are talking about specifically chosen points on the bush of life.

Humility in knowledge is a virtue. Scientific theories always run the risk of being overturned by better theories. The question here isn't "could evolution be overturned?", but rather, "is ID the thing to overturn it?". So far the answer from every quarter that has examined it is "no". As they say, "the race may not always go to the swift..."

Luke said...

From Walker:
If the hand of a creator lies behind this design, he paints with a brush more subtle and more sublime than has been dreamt of in their philosophy. My sentiments exactly! I've tried to explain this to my creationist friends with little success. They have the relationship between faith and science completely backwards. Creation is beautifully elegant. From a surprisingly small set of physical laws arises a vast universe, and from that arises life. Creation does not require constant management and tinkering. It runs and repairs itself. It is a marvelous thing. Why should that truth be seen as a threat to a true faith?

Ronaldo, when Walker talks about YEC, he is saying that without the paradigmatic exclusion of supernatural explanations, you are left with no ability to make a scientific exploration of the universe. It is a difference between "I do not know" and "I cannot know". And to do that for no reason other than to believe in a particular story is a great loss. Once having introduced "(a) God made it so" as an explanation, ID has nothing to prevent an intellectual implosion to YEC.

ronaldo said...

> this gap between "real" transitional forms and candidates isn't as real as you're making it unless you are talking about specifically chosen points on the bush [[not tree?]] of life. >

In my estimation, most evolutionary research /does/ talk about specifically chosen points. When two science articles come out about, say, a new hominid fossil discovery, and one article says "Missing link found" and the other one says "Has a missing link been found?" I think the second article is much more correct. This is analogous to the "real" and "candidate" transitional forms, respectively. It also satisfies my "humility" requirement.

Concerning your first paragraph, I hear your point, but still, I can just imagine Dawkins debating Dembski about ID, and Dawkins going off about the young age of the earth. To which Dembski beams at the audience, "That's nice Richard, but you just wasted a lot of time refuting a position that I don't even hold."

ScienceAvenger said...

You obviously haven't read much Dembski, or any of the other leading lights of ID, because that is exactly the sort of thing they won't say, and the scientific community has been trying to get them to say, for years. Instead they choose to dance around the issue with their version of "don't ask don't tell" regarding the age of the earth, the nature of the designer, and the natural questions of what, when, how, and where, that any actual ID scientist would ask and pursue. Yet none of them do so. Curious for a supposed science, isn't it?

ronaldo said...

Fine, in a /public/ debate, he probably wouldn't admit it out loud. I'm not here to defend his character. But he's still on the record (wiki counts, right?) for not believing in YEC. Same with Behe and Wells.

In sum, in taking on people like those in ID, Walker should just stick with battling design, not battling YEC.

ScienceAvenger said...

Sure, in scientific settings they'll all express their views in a way they think will please the scientists, just like they created ID to attempt to express themselves in a way that will please the courts. And in the churches they say what those there want to hear. When Dembski, Behe, Wells, or any of the other IDers are willing to categorically deny that the earth is thousands of years old in front of one of their Christian audiences, and all others, I'll give them credit for rejecting that particular nonsense. Until then, they're just playing politics when they should be doing science.

ronaldo said...

Any thoughts about my last sentence? "In sum, in taking on people like those in ID, Walker should just stick with battling design, not battling YEC."

Troublesome Frog said...


I think that you're placing too much emphasis on the fact that the major leaders of the ID movement (at least, the ones with meaningful academic credentials) are not YEC. The reality is that the YEC apologists are all for ID and are just as happy to push it as the OECs are. They're fine with uniting against a common enemy and working out their differences later.

The strategy of having a many motivations (or many factions with different motivations) for public policy but only admitting to the "respectable" ones in order to make it politically palatable is a common strategy. There's nothing new about endorsing "critical thinking" against a theory you dislike, "saving innocent people from a dictator" who happens to have some natural resources you want, or railing against "welfare queens" because it plays well with the racist vote. I don't think that we should let it slide.