Saturday, December 31

Reflections on Rain

We finally got our first really good rain storm of this winter today, the last day of the year. We just keep catching the tails of storm fronts as they plow through north of us lately. That means scattered, light showers at best. But this latest one was apparently a "100-year storm" for the Bay Area and we got a fair amount of rain here as a result.

I like the rain. I love the sound on the roof, especially at night when I'm going to sleep. I find it very relaxing. I like the smell of it too; during and after. I like going out in it on occasion. And today I did. It's neat to go downtown and watch the swollen creek rush by.

Growing up in Northern California, we got decent rainstorms often in the winter (occasionally even snow!). Here in SLO, not so much, and it was one of the first differences that struck me with winter here. It all has to do with the jet stream. Some years, it carries the storms to the north of us, other years it dips down and we get hit. Our latitude places us right on the fringe.

My oddest rain experience (for a Californian): I was in Houston for a student conference when a tropical storm hit. The group I was with were all standing under the hotel's carport waiting for our airport shuttle. We were all standing outside quite comfortably in t-shirts and shorts (for our flight back to LAX) while globules of rain fell not more than a few feet from us. It was a torrent of big fat drops that were warm to the touch when I held out my hand to them.

Thursday, December 29

Creationist Letter Fisking

Bruce Curtis' letter appeared alongside mine in the local alt-weekly. Bruce is a frequent letter writer in these parts and quite a wingnut. As one can expect he weighs in on the side of intelligent design.
Despite his lazy research, thanks to Jeff Hornaday for his willingness to at least discuss the debate over intelligent design.

Instead of searching the Internet for scholarly publications offering theories to explain the challenge of irreducible complexity - virtually none exist -

In his own search Bruce must have missed this page, which lists over a dozen such articles. Granted, if you restrict yourself to peer-reviewed science journals addressing IC directly, the pickings may be slim, but that also holds for pro-IC articles, so there hasn't been much of a challenge to explain. IC itself is little more that a recasting of Paley's old Watchmaker argument with smaller parts.
he looks up the same tired urban myths, those old transitional species chestnuts that have been revealed as hoaxes or products of nonscientific extrapolation.

You always know you're dealing with an open-minded person when they reject evidence out-of-hand like that. Archaeopteryx, the species Hornaday references in his article, is not a hoax, though some evolution deniers have claimed so. I'd have to say that Bruce is the one pedaling the same tired urban myths. It's absurd to contend that all the transitional fossils in this list are hoaxes or unscientific extrapolation.
For us who grew up in the 1950s on depictions of simple living cells, recent strides in molecular biology have only begun to reveal the vast complexity with which even a simple virus or white cell operates. Lehigh University biology professor Michael Behe, in his book "Darwin's Black Box: the Biochemical Challenge To Evolution," reveals the fantastic odds against even the simplest building blocks inside cells forming spontaneously.

As I've pointed out above, Behe's thesis has been roundly criticized. Despite the fundamental premise that evolution works through incremental changes, some critics insist that the improbability of spontaneous leaps is an insurmountable problem. Such spontaneous leaps are unnecessary.

Now I'll grant that Behe attempts to show that such spontaneous leaps are necessary, but he fails at it. Behe says that a biochemical system is "irreducibly complex" when it requires all of it's parts working together to preform its function, such that removing any part will cause the system to fail. The system therefore, couldn't evolve by incrementally adding parts step by step, since it couldn't function without all of them.

There are many problems with that argument. The main one is that when Behe looks at biochemical systems with their functions and parts today and pronounces them IC, he fails to account for how their functions and parts have themselves changed as they evolved. An efficient IC system could have evolved from a non-IC system that did the job sloppily, for example. A system could have had a different function in the past and was co-opted into a new one. This is not juct an academic objection. There are many examples where variations on the same basic parts preform a variety of different functions in molecular biology.

Put simply, you don't have to believe in God to question the validity of Darwinism, but whenever you do, you get attacked as some kind of theistic thinker,

No. A) There are some evolution deniers that aren't, the late Fred Hoyle for example. B) That said, the vast majority of evolution deniers are. C) In discussing intelligent design, you simply can't deny the theistic nature of the alleged designer. D) Concerning you specifically, Bruce, you have too much written history to suggest that you aren't.
and that itself reveals the tremored paleontological, archaeological, and scientific ground on which macroevolution tries to stand.

This is an epic non-sequiter. Pointing out the obvious theistic underpinnings of ID says nothing at all about evolution.
Why Hornaday didn't do his homework on the fundaments of the ID debate is perplexing.

Hornaday's piece may not have been the best on ID that I've ever read, but when he says, "The operative expression is abracadabra, also known as hocus pocus, and it consists of a supernatural being...," I'd say he got the fundamentals down
When you anger supporters of Darwinism merely by questioning the science behind it, you reveal it to be a creed, a statement of faith and not legitimate science.

No, you simply reveal that we're tired of the long refuted denials that pass as questioning the science behind evolution.
As North County Christian school principal Bob McLaughlin rightly recognizes, open debate is the one thing that distinguishes education from indoctrination.

Open debate is no substitute for getting the facts straight.

Letter on Intelligent Design Published

I got a Letter to the Editor published today in the New Times on their ID story (2nd one down). They published two others on it as well, one from a creationist. I'll fisk Mr. Curtis' letter a bit latter.

Sunday, December 25

Cato Fellow on Dover

The Cato institute has nothing to do with the Intelligent Design issue or the Dover case. Then why are they quoted in the Knight-Ridder wire story about the case? In an opinion piece (also K-R)Cato Fellow Andrew "Why does ID get all the press? What about my pet issue?" Coulson uses the Dover decision to promote "school choice".

The problem is that his ruling can do little to end the battle over evolution versus creationism, because it doesn't address the root cause of that battle: our monolithic government-sanctioned schools.

It's that simple. By combining a pluralistic society with a one-size-fits-all education system, we have created a perpetual conflict machine.

It's so terrible that we have to fight ignorance and promote proper science education, so we should just get rid of the education system altogether! It's caused nothing but trouble!

His identification of the "root cause" is pretentious and self-serving. There already are private Christian schools that teach creationism/ID, so it's not like there is no place to go. This hasn't stopped the conflict in the public school arena. I also fail to see how locally based school districts equals monolithic or one-size-fits-all.

The root cause, if anything, is a misguided religion-vs-science dispute where any factual description of our origins is unfairly seen as showing that God is irrelevant, with a health dose of anti-intellectualism in the culture.

By offering tax relief to middle-income families, and tuition scholarships to those with lower incomes, we could bring independent schooling within reach of every family.

Such a system can be designed, using tax credits for both personal use and for donations to private scholarship funds, in such a way that no government money is spent on education. [Emphasis mine]

Somehow, I think the lower classes are going to get shafted in this deal.

Others argue that some areas of knowledge are simply too important to be left to parental discretion, and that the (presumably all-wise and all-knowing) state must step in to ensure that these are taught to all children.


In addition to being patently un-American, such an authoritarian approach to education is both ineffective and shortsighted.

Requiring science education to stick to, ya know, science is just too much for some people. I have no problem letting scientists decide what the scientific consensus is, and leave non-scientist parents out of it. This isn't authoritarian. It's consulting experts who know what they're talking about.

Evolution has been the official government curriculum for several decades, and only a third of Americans think it is well-supported by the evidence. Slightly more than half adhere to the biblical creation story. So we've tried the official knowledge thing, and it doesn't work.

More defeatism...But it does put the lie to the claim that we're forcing people's beliefs on the issue.

What you won't get in the paper: Coulson's disdain of reality.

After all, does it really matter if some Americans believe intelligent design is a valid scientific theory while others see it as a Lamb of God in sheep's clothing? Surely not. While there are certainly issues on which consensus is key -- respect for the rule of law and the rights of fellow citizens, tolerance of differing viewpoints, etc. -- the origin of species is not one of them.

Consensus on reality isn't key? Science is what helps us make sense of the natural world. This goes far beyond the issue of origins, and touches on many issues important to Coulson's Cato Institute, such as environmental issues. And environmental issues is another hot button area where partisans try to dispute the science, when the real disagreement is over policy/ideology.

In Coulson's world, people should exist in their own little bubbles, and never have their children deal with any disagreement with their views, or, *gasp*, that those views might be factually wrong.

Nothing is gained, for instance, by compelling conformity on school prayer, random drug testing, the set of religious holidays that are worth observing, or the most appropriate forms of sex education.

We can't have sex-education based on reality either. Nope, we have texaggeratete condom failures, keep girls from getting vaccinated against a cancer-causing virus, knowledge of effective birth control and safe-sex measures out of their hands (if not the actual measures themselves), and hope that scaring them out of sex will both prevent them from doing it, and see it as a wonderful act on their wedding night.

Coulson's plan would be a complete disaster.

Update: NEVER use Blogger's spell check. That is all.

Thursday, December 22

New Times On ID

The local alt-weekly on Intelligent Design. It isn't much of a story, despite being the cover story this week and occuping two full pages. But it was written by thier Arts editor, and isn't as bad as some of their other forays into science writing. He does ramble on quite a bit, but he doesn't seem too impressed with ID. Even though he doesn't interview any scientists, he does undermine ID in several places.

The most glaring omition is the lack of any mention of the Kitzmiller decision two days ago. You publish a story about ID and fail to mention the major drubbing it recently took in federal court?!

Saturday, December 17

Immigration Restriction is Enviromentalism?

I read the local paper today, which I haven't done in a while. With The Triviune one doesn't miss much, but today they did something that irritated me. Several actually (NSA Listens In: A4?!), but in their Voices section they ran three pieces under Perspectives on Immigration. One would think they would publish three divergent views, but no. Not only do we get three identical views, but it's quite clear from the first that all three were members of same meeting with our local Assemblyperson to lobby on this issue (and that he's doing a swell job, too). The editor thought we needed to be triple-teamed on this issue.

The editorials assert that controling immigration is an environmentalist position. They claim that getting population growth under control is essential to solving our environmental problems. How do they jump from population growth to immigration?

More than 90 percent of California's population growth is caused by immigration and births to recent immigrants -- a million new people every two years.

Unfortunately such racist overtones are present in parts the environmental movement. The Sierra Club has recently been involved in a fractious fight over whether to take a stand on immigration policy. It's a shame that not all environmentalists are progressive in other areas as well.