Florida, edging toward Doomed

By Phil Plait | November 20, 2007 11:59 am

They’re not doomed yet, but the folks of Florida’s Polk county are headed that way:

A majority of Polk County School Board members say they support teaching intelligent design in addition to evolution in public schools.

I have to come right out and say this: the incredible ignorance of this type of thinking is mind numbing (and read the whole article for a series of chillingly horrifying quotations from the School Board members on this issue). Does no one remember what happened in Dover, Pennsylvania, just two short years ago? Humiliating national attention, huge amounts of money and time wasted, ruinous attention spotlit right on the disgrace that is creationism and Intelligent Design… and in the end, a crystal clear ruling showing unequivocally that ID is the exact same thing as creationism, and that many people promoting it (cough cough Discovery Institute) are nothing more than a pack of evil liars?

Yet here we have 4 out of 7 school board members saying they should teach ID, with one being unsure.

Truthfully, if I had put myself in suspended animation 10 years ago and revived today, I would swear I would have woken up in a real life version of 1984, or else my brain had been damaged and I was experiencing some sort of phantasm or fugue.

If things in Polk County continue down this course, then I sure hope the taxpayers don’t mind seeing a few million bucks thrown down a rabbit hole. Because if the Board thinks ID needs to be added to the schools’ curriculum, then they are in a for a whole lot more trouble then they bargained for.

Still, there is some hope. One board member who is firmly anchored in reality made an excellent statement:

Jonathan Smith, a retired engineer from Lakeland and member of the board of directors for Florida Citizens of Science, and Joe Wolf, president of the group, plan to tell the board that intelligent design is a religious concept, not scientific theory. Smith said that he will remind the board of what occurred in Dover, Pa., in 2005 when school board members there wanted intelligent design taught in classrooms.

[…]

“You can’t teach two sides when there isn’t a second side,” Smith said. “There isn’t.”

Good on ya, Mr. Smith. I hope that 1) the other Board members heed him and 2) the voters in Polk County show those four pro-fantasy Board members the door as soon as possible. Otherwise…

Hat tip to PZ and Florida Citizens for Science.

Comments (83)

  1. Murff

    “You’re talking about separation of church and state,” O’Reilly said. “I believe in intelligent design personally, but the court has ruled against it. We cannot break the law if it is set down before us.”

    At least O’Reilly still has some logical thinking floating around up top.

    But then you get this scary quote…

    “My tendency would be to have both sides shared with students since neither side can be proven,” Tim Harris said.

    I’m sorry Mr. Harris, but only one side can’t be proven…..

  2. Joe

    It’s even more scary: One of the two board members who support the new ‘pro-evolution’ science standards (O’Reilly) said. “I believe in intelligent design personally, but the court has ruled against it. We cannot break the law if it is set down before us.”

  3. DTdNav

    Evolution: It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.

  4. > I would swear I would have woken up in a real life version of 1984

    Mmmmm, hyperbole. Naw, we’re just reliving the Scopes period… yet again. As for O’Reilly’s belief in the rule of law, I’m willing to support any reasoning that prevents superstition being taught as science.

  5. Phil … correction: Smith and Wolf are not a school board members. They are board members of Florida Citizens for Science. You need to tweak your post to reflect this.

    Thanks,
    Brandon

  6. Terry

    Creationism is teaching religion, on that most will agree.

    However, be very careful when trying to say that Evolution is scientific law. There are very few laws in science but lots of theories. Evolution is a theory. Leave it as a theory. Meaning study it and figure out how it works.

    Now consider this a scientific law holds in all cases and as such a theory can’t be correct and has to be modified if it violates a scientific law. Why is the Theory of Evolution allowed to violate the second law of Thermodynamics?

  7. Hold on, guys, I’ll get this one.

    > Now consider this a scientific law holds in all cases and as such a theory can’t be correct and has to be modified if it violates a scientific law. Why is the Theory of Evolution allowed to violate the second law of Thermodynamics?

    Evolution does not violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics (2LT). The 2LT states that in any closed thermodynamic system, entropy increases. The Earth, and its ecology, is not a closed thermodynamic system as it constantly gains additional energy from the Sun.

    The 2LT, by the way, is a theory, as is universal gravitation.

  8. Crux Australis

    Nice catch, Centipede. We nearly fell over each other trying to get that ball.

  9. Doc

    Is the term “IDiot” too harsh and counterproductive?

  10. I don’t see how it could possibly add anything useful other than tarnishing the support of science with childish schoolyard insults.

    Wait, that’s not useful at all.

    Short answer would be “yes.”

  11. tacitus

    Just ask the Polk school board how popular they think they will be with parents and teachers once they’ve been saddled with a million+ dollar settlement against them.

    Dover may have been a local case, but its ramifications are being felt nationwide.

  12. Quiet_Desperation

    Argh! Teh stoopid! IT BURNS!!!

    Bleah… I need a break from skeptical blogs until after the holiday. You can only read so many accounts of stupidity before you start rooting for the extinction asteroid.

    >”tarnishing the support of science with childish schoolyard insults”

    That would be the Penn & Teller syndrome, as I call it.

    Some Guy: I really don’t know what to believe.
    Penn: You’re a ****head!
    Some Guy: But I’m not a magician, and I’ve had no formal training in any sciences related to this issue.
    Penn: ***hole! Braindead ****sucker!
    Some Guy: I’m going to go talk to someone else now.
    Penn: Coward! Die!

    I have personally converted eight (former) Sylvia Browne fans to rationality by using a kindler and gentler approach.

  13. If those wishing to sell superstition as science can steal pages from our playbook, we can steal pages from theirs: “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Penn & Teller’s Bull****! is an effective tool for the already converted to feel smug and important compared to all the know-nothings…

    …which makes it more or less equivalent to most Michael Moore films or Ann Coulter books. Not exactly useful when idea meets idea in the battlefield of the mind of the masses. Religion already has the advantage of both having a carrot (eternal life!) and a stick (eternal damnation!) when it comes to trying to dominate all possible modes of thought; the only times science has been ‘victorious’ using similar arguments has been anthropogenic global warming (which has emphasized the stick more than anything else).

  14. Terry

    Well I’ll give you another ball to fall over.

    You forgot to mention that there has to be a comparable or greater decrease outside the system.

    Is the amount of energy from the Sun greater than any decreases. Again it is an open system so there must be decreases. You can’t have everything increase, or you can, it is called a perpetual motion machine.

    Taking into consideration your increase from the Sun and the fact that there has to be a corresponding decrease we can take your logic one step further.

    Imagine there is a pile of scrap metal in a room. This pile of scrap metal can and with your logic will reorganize itself into a shiny new computer. This can happen as long as there are two computers in the next room rusting away and the door is open.

  15. I’m going to do something I rarely do and use an extraneous “um.”

    Umm… no.

    > You forgot to mention that there has to be a comparable or greater decrease outside the system.

    In a closed thermodynamic system, there is no ‘outside the system.’ In an open thermodynamic system, the Sun is going from a high energy unstable state (hydrogen) to a lower-energy more stable state (helium). So this indeed occurs.

    > Is the amount of energy from the Sun greater than any decreases. Again it is an open system so there must be decreases. You can’t have everything increase, or you can, it is called a perpetual motion machine.

    The net insolation-radiation heat balance is positive. Global warming, anyone? Without any global warming effect, Earth is too far out to sustain liquid water on its surface based on insolation temperature alone. Thus, the insulation loading of Earth’s atmosphere must force a net increase over time until an equilibrium is reached. Even then, the energy coming in is high exergy (in the form of visible-wavelength light) and the energy radiated is low exergy (in the form of infrared radiation).

    > Imagine there is a pile of scrap metal in a room. This pile of scrap metal can and with your logic will reorganize itself into a shiny new computer. This can happen as long as there are two computers in the next room rusting away and the door is open.

    No, my argument simply went to indicate that the limited closed-system 2LT does not disprove evolution. Work must of course be done with the energy, or else it is a simple pipeline. However, your argument is accurate because there is indeed two computers in the next room rusting away. Those two computers are the Sun, whose entropy is increasing ‘in order to’ provide the Earth with energy.

    Entropy, on local scales, commonly goes backwards (with of course increased entropy ‘outside’), it’s called crystal formation.

  16. I am, of course, ignoring the red herring that computers are manufactured devices while the individual chemical components of life are not.

  17. Doc

    Ok guys, you’re right. I’ll *try* to stay polite.

    … but I reserve the right to think the work occasionally.

    The biggest difficulty I see in responding in a non-Penn&Teller fashion is that the other side usually doesn’t want to bother learning anything about the subject they’re arguing about beyond a superficial level. They soak up just enough information to present their arguments and then expect you to prove something in plain english that requires a college degree to fully understand. If you can’t then they say it proves they’re right. If you can then they say you’re oversimplifying things.

    *sigh*

  18. scott

    The sad thing, Terry, is you seem to be under the illusion that no one has ever brought up these “brilliant” points before. Got anything that hasn’t been debunked decades ago?

    But at least you admit outright that “creationism is teaching religion.” Many of your creationist fellow-travelers aren’t so honest.

  19. Doc

    On an unrelated note, CNN now has a story on that guy who converts SUVs to get “100 miles to the gallon”

  20. > … but I reserve the right to think the work occasionally.

    Whatever you think in your own head is a matter between you and your god[s]. ;)

    > The biggest difficulty I see in responding in a non-Penn&Teller fashion is that the other side usually doesn’t want to bother learning anything about the subject they’re arguing about beyond a superficial level.

    This is of course true about ‘the other side’–those who are ideologically committed to the other side for whatever reason. The likelihood of those kinds of people converting away from creationism is about akin of a staunch evolutionist who has put emotional value in defending his creed converting to creationism. The real battle does not lie in converting the enemy so much as the middle ground, the people who are still asking “why” or whose belief (and I use the word intentionally) is held in tension.

    Creationists and IDists unfairly characterize the conflict as science trying to destroy religion, and some atheistic scientists not only play into their hands, but agree completely. This pushes the average religious person with a relatively neutral stance on science further towards religion, as part of their self-identification is threatened. This is where Gould’s magesteria is a stroke of genius: people can have their cake, and eat it too. Science provides naturalistic explanation of naturalistic events, but that does not necessarily discount the nonexistance of supernatural explanation for those things that lie outside the purview of scientific discourse (such as what it means to be human, philosophy, ‘the answer to life, the universe, and everything’). While strict materialists disagree with the thought that anything is beyond science, the magesteria still works in their favor by being our own “Wedge:” the unwary formulate a God of the Gaps that is eventually shut out by science, creating an atheist. The wary put their God well out of reach and touch (like the deists, let’s call it a God of the Shelf) and maintain theism whilst retaining purely naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena.

    In any case, one attracts more flies with honey than with vinegar, especially as science has little honey to offer by itself. It has no Heaven with which to entice nor Hell with which to frighten, and thus, as an ideological stance, has only the friendliness of its supporters and human curiosity to commend it in terms of an ideology.

  21. Kirk

    I suppose you folks have never taken the time to read Richard Dawkins, Steven Jay Gould or Christopher Hitchins. Darwin got it right. BUT, I suppose you could trust the folks who censured Galileo and others, after all you may also believe the earth is only 6000+ years old. I despair for the future of the USA with education systemes like Dover, PA & those in Florida.

  22. Cory

    Terry stated, “However, be very careful when trying to say that Evolution is scientific law…Now consider this a scientific law holds in all cases and as such a theory can’t be correct and has to be modified if it violates a scientific law.” But just to point out the obvious, theory = explanation. To say evolution is just a theory is to say evolution is “just” an explanation. Laws are how, theories are why, and ergo no theory will ever be law and no equation will ever be a theory.

  23. > I suppose you folks have never taken the time to read Richard Dawkins, Steven Jay Gould or Christopher Hitchins.

    By ‘you folks’ you mean Terry, party of one, right…?

    > Darwin got it right.

    Agreed.

    > BUT, I suppose you could trust the folks who censured Galileo and others,

    The Catholic Church eventually apologized. Three centuries after the fact. Every Catholic I know says they’re not too surprised, what with the Vatican’s bureaucracy and all. ;)

    > after all you may also believe the earth is only 6000+ years old.

    I do indeed believe the Earth is only 6000+ years old. I believe it to be somewhere around 4.3 billion years old, which is on the high end of 6000+, I admit, but still there. ;)

    > I despair for the future of the USA with education systemes like Dover, PA

    Which was unconstitutional and got overturned

    > & those in Florida.

    Which hasn’t even happened yet, and if it is, it’ll be unconstitutional and get overturned.

    The system works, to some extent! :D

  24. > But just to point out the obvious, theory = explanation. To say evolution is just a theory is to say evolution is “just” an explanation. Laws are how, theories are why, and ergo no theory will ever be law and no equation will ever be a theory.

    No. The ‘laws’ of physics, thermodynamics, and universal gravitation are also “just” explanations of natural phenomenon. They are all “how” matters. They are only ‘laws’ because they have not been disproven; they are essentially very well backed up theories.

    No scientific theory answers “why” questions. Why are we here? Why are we sentient? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is the sky blue, instead of grue or purpbleen or any other color that a grand creator could choose to make it?

    Science can explain how we came to be, eventually how we came to be intelligent, the cause and effect relationships between events, and how the sky is blue through the diffraction of light. All laws are theories, and all theories with sufficient backing are laws, when it comes to science.

  25. Terry

    The generalized equations for an open system will also lead to an increase in entropy, so the second law does apply to open systems as well.

    I like your explanation for global warming. It has lots of really cool words and comes to the conclusion that you can ignore anything in science as long as it gives the answer that you want. I somehow don’t believe that the amount of energy from the Sun that is retained by the Earth’s atmosphere is greater than the amount received from the Sun. You need to adjust you equation a wee little bit.

    The increase in energy from the Sun only serves to change the temperature distribution of the Earth. The energy by itself will not cause the creation of anything.

    If I recall a crystal is formed when the solution evaporates. Is there really a decrease in entropy?

    Last but not least, to Scott. The posts with Centipede have been fun. You didn’t post anything indicating any intelligence. Maybe that is your on personal illusion.

    This has been fun.

  26. Stripe7

    I am horrified that this is a protent of things to come, that our world is headed down the slide as in the movie Idiocracy.

  27. Edward C

    What is Intelligent Design? (In the context of evolution)

  28. Cello Man

    @ Terry

    Two things. Swing over to http://www.notjustatheory.com so you can actually understand what evolution really is. Second, give some thoughts to the list below. (Credit to member FloydA from http://www.fark.com)

    1) Variation exists in all populations.

    2) Some of that variation is heritable.

    3) Some of that heritable variation has an influence on survival and mate attraction.

    4) Characteristics that increase the number of mating opportunities become more common each generation, while those that interfere with mating opportunities become less common.

    5) Base pair sequences are encoded in a set of self-replicating molecules that form templates for making proteins.

    6) “Crossing over” during mitosis and meiosis alters the sequence of base pairs on a chromosome, which results in combinations of genes that had not previously existed.

    7) Copying errors (mutations) can also arise, because the self-replication process is of high, but not perfect fidelity. Those mutations also increase the range of combinations of alleles in a gene pool.

    8) “Sampling errors” can occur in populations that alter the frequency of the various alleles for reasons other than survival/reproduction advantages.

    9) Migration of individuals from one population to another can lead to changes in the relative frequencies of alleles in the “recipient” population.

    10) Populations of a single species that live in different environments are exposed to different conditions that can “favor” different traits. These environmental differences will cause two populations to accumulate different suites of characteristics.

    That’s what evolution IS. If you have a problem with evolution, you have a problem with one or more of those ten points. Which one is it?

  29. Yojimbo

    Ever been in black fly country when they’re swarming? They have one thing on their tiny minds – biting. You can crush one and another fills the space. You can shoo them and they fly around your hand and keep on coming. IDiots are like black flies. They won’t stop, no matter how much you slap them down.

    If Article 1 of the Constitution said “Intelligent Design shall not be taught in scence class”, and you used that to preclude teaching ID in science class, they would claim that you were misreading the Constitution.

    I doubt that any state will be forever doomed, but don’t expect the Creationists to be dissuaded no matter how many times they lose.

  30. KaiYeves

    Bad Joke:
    Why did the Anti-evolution kid take his textbook to a bar?
    They asked to see ID.

  31. blah

    “Religion already has the advantage of both having a carrot (eternal life!) and a stick (eternal damnation!) when it comes to trying to dominate all possible modes of thought; the only times science has been ‘victorious’ using similar arguments has been anthropogenic global warming (which has emphasized the stick more than anything else).”

    Now, just wait a minute–do you mean to tell me that modern medicine, longer, healthier lives, machines, better food, cleaner environment–all the results of science–are not “carrots”? Is it okay to suffer if you think you’re going somewhere when you die? What if there is no somewhere else?

    This is it, people! Enjoy what science and hard work has given you, and seek to improve upon it. Don’t let your brain rot in your head while you’re alive. Do we really want to go back to the stone age, living until age 35 and dying to bears and measles?

  32. Cory

    The Centipede wrote, “All laws are theories, and all theories with sufficient backing are laws, when it comes to science.” I refer to the website notjustatheory (.com), to which the BadAstronomer once devoted a blog entry. To quote: “A theory never becomes a law… Laws describe things, theories explain them.” That is what I meant and, insofar as I can tell, that is correct.

  33. > The generalized equations for an open system will also lead to an increase in entropy, so the second law does apply to open systems as well.

    Already admitted. The entropy increase comes from the products of fusion on the Sun. This is irrelevant given that the energy balance of the system in question (the Earth) is net-positive and so entropy is allowed to increase locally by the Second Law, thus disproving the argument that thermodynamics disproves evolution as it does no such thing. I could appeal to authority, but I won’t.

    > I somehow don’t believe that the amount of energy from the Sun that is retained by the Earth’s atmosphere is greater than the amount received from the Sun. You need to adjust you equation a wee little bit.

    This is because the atmosphere is not the whole heat sink of the planet. The entire planet, until its heat sink capacity is filled, will, on net, absorb energy. Insolation need not equal radiation.

    > The increase in energy from the Sun only serves to change the temperature distribution of the Earth. The energy by itself will not cause the creation of anything.

    This is patently false, and another red herring: the macroscopic temperature distribution of the Earth has nothing to do with the microscopic events which indicate evolution. The increase in energy from the Sun by and large powers practically all cycles on the planet, from life cycles to hydrologic cycles. Geothermic contributions are relatively negligible on a global scale. Increases in temperatue tend to increase the rate of chemical reactions, which will lead to the formation (not creation ex nilhio) of more complex stable compounds out of less complex stable compounds (an extreme example being the polymerization of egg whites). From this direct photonic input of energy, acting on an atomic scale by increasing the energy levels of electrons and thus the reactivity of atoms and molecules, more complex forms can combine due to their activation energy being exceeded and then emit energy in a net gain in entropy in the reaction itself (although, in terms of physical ‘order,’ there is a loss in entropy because of the additional energy input from outside the reaction allowed two individual ‘unordered’ molecules to become one larger one).

    I could rehash the motion from simple organic compounds to more complex organic compounds to nascent self-reproducing molecules and enzymes, but that has been described in detail by people who are actual organic chemists, not rocket scientists like myself.

    Now, my argument has centered primarily on the evolution of life from unliving matter. As for evolution itself, if the laws of thermodynamics prevented that from occuring then it would also prevent any sort of order coming from disorder, such as galaxies, stars, planets, rocks, so on and so forth.

    > If I recall a crystal is formed when the solution evaporates. Is there really a decrease in entropy?

    No, that is a precipitate. Almost any chemical crystalline formation from a disordered solution to a structured crystal is a decrease in local (the particles of the crystal) entropy, at the expense of the greater (the solution’s) entropy. A chemist could probably offer better data.

  34. blah

    “Maybe that is your on personal illusion.

    This has been fun.”

    This wasn’t directed at me, but I don’t understand what is “on” his or her “personal illusion.” Nothing about your posts have been fun. Stupid isn’t fun. Wasting time isn’t fun. Be a grown up and learn something about your world before you reach the end of your life.

  35. Earle Rich

    Conversation I’ve had more than once during my time as a snowbird in Florida.

    Question from a local:

    “What church do you go to?”

    Answer:

    “Oh, I don’t go to church, I’m not superstitious”

    silence!

  36. PK

    Centipede, I beg to differ: the whole “science tells us how and religion tells us why” presupposes that the ultimate “why” is a meaningful question in the first place. I am not so sure that this is the case.

    Many lesser “why” questions can be reduced to scientific explanations: Why is the sky blue? Because of the laws of optics. Don’t confuse the perception of the colour blue, which is a definition, with something that has to be explained. Science is full of definitions, which can be changed without changing the content of the theory (think of coordinate transformations, for example).

    Suppose that the ultimate “why” question was well-defined. The answers from religion typically are a catch-all “because of X”, where X is something that defies definition at the penalty of inconsistency (e.g. omnipotence: can God make a rock he himself cannot lift?). This resistance to a precise definition is necessary to avoid infinite regress (“turtles all the way down”).

    I do understand that a religious emotion is very real in many people, but this is ontologically equivalent to the atheist intuition that the universe does not require an answer to the ultimate “why” question, that there is nothing after we die, and that the universe has no purpose.

  37. Slowly but Surly

    > Stupid isn’t fun….

    Contrast this with Centipede’s posts. Terry asks questions and makes assertions, Centipede and others reply with useful information and corrections.

    And then a few tell or infer that Terry is stupid.

    I wonder which approach will yield positive results?

  38. BobC

    What Joe said in the 2nd comment. Out of 7 board members only 2 want to support the new science standards, and at least one of those 2 board members believes in magical creation, but doesn’t want to break the law. Why are stupid people allowed on school boards?

  39. Grand Lunar

    I was afraid the plauge that is ID and creationism would hit my home state’s educational system sooner or later.

    I hope this doesn’t get to Broward County, my home. But even if it does, at least I’m a voter, and I can kick out the baddies that wish to impose their beliefs in science education.

    Come on Polk County, do the right thing!

  40. Thanny

    I’m no lawyer, but it’s my understanding that the Dover precedent means school board members would be *personally* liable for costs against the district if they enacted such a policy. The Dover district had to pay $2 million, which was actually less than the costs of the suit.

  41. Ian

    Seems some folks don’t grok theory vs. law in science. For the impaired:

    http://www.notjustatheory.com/

    Hope that helps.

  42. OtherRob

    At least I graduated from a Polk County high school 20+ years ago….

    Of course now I’m living in Georgia.

    One more post from Phil and I’ll hit the trifecta. :-)

  43. k

    Doomed? LOL
    I went to Lake Gibson High School. I got news for ya, they’ve gotten quite progressive, they openly say the e (evolution) word now.

    Which is why:
    A) I homeschool
    B) I moved to Orlando.

  44. Troy

    The real problem in my opinion isn’t creationist members of school boards, usually once they get some attention they bring about their own ouster. Instead it is the problem of watered down text books, limiting evolution to a chapter or no mention at all when it should be the back bone of the entire subject.

  45. I think it’s probably a *good* idea to teach ID/creationism in schools. Before you jump on me: not in science class, since it isn’t. But teach about it in philosophy or social studies classes or something like that, so that children can be educated as to *why* it doesn’t make sense, in the hopes that when they grow up they won’t fall into the same traps as their parents.

    Still, I don’t hold out much hope for some parts of the US. At least if the media is to be believed.

  46. Greg

    A majority of Polk County School Board members say they support teaching intelligent design in addition to evolution in public schools.

    Reason #3714 to homeschool your kids.

    Someone asked something like, “How did they get onto the school board?”

    Because people voted them there. Presumably the people who voted knew where these campaigning board members stood on the ID/Creationism/Evolution questions.

    Re: http://www.notjustatheory.com/ Bookmarked and stumbled. Nice site, thanks.

  47. JLD

    A Science Teacher’s perspective:

    OK it’s time to weigh in on this. For the record, I am a 28-year public middle school science-teaching veteran. I am also my church’s choir director. My favorite teaching unit is “adaptation and evolution.” I believed in Intelligent Design (still do) long before anybody coined that term. I also agree completely with the tenet of separation of church and state.

    Here’s why there doesn’t have to be a conflict.

    When I introduce the topic I am always inundated with questions about the biblical accounts of creation. These are questions no good educator should ignore. What has to be done is to use those opportunities to explain why God isn’t included in scientific discourse. The reason I give is that God’s existence isn’t something that can be examined scientifically so it is best discussed in a different forum.

    We then move on in to the study of natural selection and eventually human evolution. WHEN the subject of intelligent design is broached by the students I tell them the truth. ID is a belief that evolution happens, but is guided by God. I then return to why God is outside the realm of science, etc…

    No conflicts, no trauma. No encouraging or discouraging religion. ( In 28 years I’ve only had one complaint – that from a Sunday School teacher who told some of my students that I was a “fool.” Personally, I was delighted. That meant my students were talking about the topic outside of class.)

    Anyway, it works for me….

  48. > Centipede, I beg to differ: the whole “science tells us how and religion tells us why” presupposes that the ultimate “why” is a meaningful question in the first place. I am not so sure that this is the case.

    You’re misapplying “why” and “how,” as I explained later down (how the sky is blue). “Why,” for the sake of the argument above, presupposes some sort of motivation that makes the counter “why not?” generally invalid except in the atheist solution of “there is no motivation, it simply is.”

    No one generally explains why the sky is any given color, in the sense that it could be any other color were the light refractive properties of the skies different. We explain how the sky displays its particular range of colors. Naturalistic explanations are generally capable of ascribing effective ‘hows’ to processes, while the ‘whys’ of those processes (as opposed to the ‘why nots’) are generally philosophical and metaphysical questions that are not currently interrogable by science.

    Semantics is a real problem when it comes to philosophy, neh?

    > Suppose that the ultimate “why” question was well-defined.

    Then it would be scientifically interrogable. However, at this point in time, it is not well-defined, and I think it’s probably somewhat overly optimistic to presume that it will be within the foreseeable future (recall the late nineteenth century: Newtonian mechanics and Laplace’s clockwork orange view of the universe were going to finally explain all of nature in the Good End of Science… and then those damned Prussian upstarts came along). Up until such a time as the ultimate why question is well-defined, it must by its very nature not only be uninterrogable by science but also result in multiple answers based on the backgrounds and various irrationalities of the people trying to answer it (which makes it highly unscientific indeed). There’s a reason why ‘universal moral rules derived by human reason alone’ a la Kant are either unsuccessful, or two people starting from the same first principles and each acting as logically as they can come to two different and perhaps mutually contradictory solutions (as, say, Kant’s ontological imperative versus utilitarianism).

    > I do understand that a religious emotion is very real in many people, but this is ontologically equivalent to the atheist intuition that the universe does not require an answer to the ultimate “why” question, that there is nothing after we die, and that the universe has no purpose.

    And yet, despite our differences in terminology, we come to the same conclusion. I agree it is ontologically equivalent; merely a different answer to the metaphysical ‘why’ question which does indeed assert ‘why not?’ and furthermore asserts that the ‘why’ question is nonsensical. This is a valid answer.

    > The real problem in my opinion isn’t creationist members of school boards, usually once they get some attention they bring about their own ouster. Instead it is the problem of watered down text books, limiting evolution to a chapter or no mention at all when it should be the back bone of the entire subject.

    If the class is about the origin of species, I agree. If it’s a broader subject, such as “general biology…”

    > I think it’s probably a *good* idea to teach ID/creationism in schools. Before you jump on me: not in science class, since it isn’t. But teach about it in philosophy or social studies classes or something like that, so that children can be educated as to *why* it doesn’t make sense, in the hopes that when they grow up they won’t fall into the same traps as their parents.

    Except that in philosophy classes all ideas are generally held in tension, with very few ever asserted to be disproven. Creationism can be described as the religious movement it is, certainly, that directly conflicts with the science of the origin of life and speciesation, but as a philosophical construct it can’t be called to make any less sense than solipsism or the concept of Platonic Ideals. I do agree, however, with teaching it (and other religion’s creation concepts) in a comparative religion or philosophy course (an elective), because it does explain where our thought came from and it does disassociate these unscientific concepts from science.

    Finally, to JLD:

    My biology teacher did something similar, except he wasn’t just an IDer, he was a strict Young Earth Creationist and an honest-to-the-Fanged-God Holy Roller. He said he disagreed based on religious grounds, but that’s not how science works, and this is the science. Never came up again, and I still respect him for subordinating his rather strong religious will to the needs of the secular state which hired and paid him.

    ‘Course, get him in a forum where hardsell proselytization is apropos, and he’ll give you an earful. ;)

  49. Sergeant Zim

    @ Greg: “Presumably the people who voted knew where these campaigning board members stood on the ID/Creationism/Evolution questions.”

    I’m sorry to break it to you, Greg, but I’d be willing to bet large sums of money that 80-90% of the voters that actually bothered to vote for these school board members even knew the names of the various candidates before they stepped into the voting booth, and had no idea what their positions on any issue, or could name a single candidate they voted for 30 seconds after they left the booth – other than major races, mayor, governor, etc.

    School board races only get the attention of the public AFTER the fact, when they step in it over ID/Science, and even than the attention they get is vanishingly small.

  50. > Now, just wait a minute–do you mean to tell me that modern medicine, longer, healthier lives, machines, better food, cleaner environment–all the results of science–are not “carrots”?

    In terms of ideological struggles, carrots and sticks are less things applied and more things enticed or threatened. Put a carrot in front of a donkey and a stick behind him, and he’ll go forward. Hygiene is indeed a victory for science, but fails as a carrot because people can say “well, that’s why God invented medicine.” Postdaction doesn’t generally work in this case, especially since the 1950s scientific utopia (or even a wan parody of it) never came about.

  51. Stephen

    JLD: you characterise your position as “Intelligent Design”, but it looks to me as if your position is what is more commonly referred to as “Theistic Evolution”. The Discovery Institute mob, or at least most of them (their positions are frequently less than clear) reject Theistic Evolution, and there are certainly prominent Theistic Evolutionists who reject Intelligent Design.

    I did try to find a clear discussion of this for you on uncommondescent, but trying to find anything on that site which is clear is pretty much a lost cause.

  52. JLD

    Stephen: If that is indeed the case, then “Intelligent Design” has itself evolved from when I first encountered the term. I find that wonderfully ironic.

    Centipede: If you’re hoping that teaching Intelligent Deisgn (as I define it – perhaps it’s closer to “Theistic Evolution,” – a term I’d not heard of until a few minutes ago) will show that it doesn’t make sense, you might be disappointed. If you accept the premise that God exists, it does make sense. If you don’t believe in God, then the idea a house of cards.

    As I’ve stated, though, I agree completely with all the posters who think ID et al are not science.

  53. Kirk

    JLD: Hmmmm, 28 years teaching science in FLA and still an advocate of ID as evolution as directed by God. I guess the questions devolves to which god & whose version of what bible. Let’s keep the bible & god in the literature, social studies & religious courses. Educate the populace and allow them to make their own decisions about how & why the infinite variety of species occur. Perhaps they will arrive at a conclusion that says that god is a construct of the mind’s search for understandable explanations.

  54. JLD (I use > to indicate quotes)

    > Centipede: If you’re hoping that teaching Intelligent Deisgn (as I define it – perhaps it’s closer to “Theistic Evolution,” – a term I’d not heard of until a few minutes ago) will show that it doesn’t make sense, you might be disappointed.

    I wasn’t, Miral was and I was replying to her saying exactly what you said: it can’t be made out to ‘not make sense’ in a philosophy course; one either accepts it, rejects it, or modifies it. In any case (speaking as a deist to whom ‘theistic evolution’ only applies in the most tangential of senses, given the classical concept of a ‘prime mover’ and nothing more) it’s still not a scientific concept and should be indicated as such (thus nipping the creationism->creation science->ID ‘removing the materialism from science and replacing it with Christianity in particular’ movement in the bud).

  55. cbone

    It really is pretty simple. Evolution tells us how, creation tells us (for those who believe) why. One is science, the other is philosophy. The last time I checked, Philosophy wasn’t included in the Sciences.

  56. > The last time I checked, Philosophy wasn’t included in the Sciences.

    Unfortunately, this is what the Uncommon Descent / Intelligent Design As A Political Movement crowd want to do: allow and include metaphysical explanations (particularly the Jehova) for naturalistic phenomena.

    Of course, they don’t see the logical disconnect that by doing so the phenomena of nature could be the work of Shinto kami, or one of a thousand regional Hindu gods, or animist spirits…

  57. Scott M

    “WHEN the subject of intelligent design is broached by the students I tell them the truth. ID is a belief that evolution happens, but is guided by God.”

    False. This is theistic evolution. ID still insists on the Creationist model…a young Earth, “irreducable complexity”, “Detectable design”, and other canards, all the while rejecting the notion that mutation and natural selection occur at all. Two very different things.

  58. Stephen

    Scott M: no, the ID-ers accept an old earth, but usually try to keep fairly quiet about that to avoid irritating religious supporters and having their funds dry up. They reject common descent, except for Behe, who accepts it, and maybe Dembski, who is as clear as mud on the subject. Basically they’re just a bunch of fringe politicians.

  59. Having watched the 2 hour NOVA this weekend on the Dover trial, I decided to simulate a conversation

    SCI: So, you say that the development of some parts of living things are too complex to exist without being ‘designed’?

    ID: Yes, the rotating flagellum, eyes, bananas…

    SCI: Okay, so there is what you call an ‘intelligent agent’ that ‘designed’ these things, correct?

    ID: Yes.

    SCI: Okay, that brings up a problem. because the ‘intelligent agent’ would be MORE complex than the items you listed. Where did the ‘intelligent agent’ come from.

    Here we can go in one of two ways: The Occam’s Razor rebuttal
    SCI: If the more complex agent was created out of nothing, why should simpler constructions be impossible, if what you claim is the case requires a more complex source than Evolution.

    or the “elephants all the way down”

    ID: Well, the agent wasn’t created, but always existed. Science says the universe began with a Big Bang… something out of nothing.

    SCI: That’s one of the ideas, but it has been also considered that we exist in a Multiverse, where Universes such as ours are a part of a larger Universe, with each of the Individual Universes unable to communicate or influence the others. Kind of like we live in a Black Hole in the Multiverse, which also has existed forever.

    [I admit there are some pretty ‘dumbed down’ ideas in there, but remember who we’re dealing with]

    Feel free to extend or comment on this.

    J/P=?

  60. Kirk

    Is it possible that the ID crowd is lonely and wants to indoctrinate the young since they are clearly unable to convince an older, educated & thinking public. As the Jesuits say: Give me the child and I will show you the man (or something of that nature).

  61. JLD

    Kirk: Yes, I’ve been teaching science for 28 years and have no qualms whatsoever about my religious beliefs. My belief is very simple. Evolution happens. The evidence supporting it is, in my opinion, unassailable. God set evolution in motion and it’s part of his plan. I don’t pretend to be able to understand how God can exist and I really couldn’t tell you details about the current version of intelligent design because I haven’t kept up with it. As I’ve said, I don’t teach it in my science classes, and don’t think it belongs there.

    Feel free, by the way, to tell me what part of evolution theory precludes God.

    Now, as for your crack inferring that the older, educated, thinking public doesn’t believe in God…… Rubbish. Some do, some don’t.

    Centipede: Sorry about attributing the Miral’s idea to you.

  62. JLD

    Correction: I should have said “implying” instead of “inferring.”

  63. PK

    Centipede, you are redefining the common use of the word “why” to mean “how”. This is fine, but then you shouldn’t make snide remarks about others supposedly not understanding semantics. Furthermore, there is a large philosophical tradition on the question what constitutes an explanation, which is not accurately summed up by the slogan “science tells us how, religion tells us why”.

    Secondly, the ultimate “why” question may well be beyond scientific discourse, but it should not be beyond the laws of logic (even if it turns out to be an undecidable preposition). If you can arrive at a contradiction when you discuss the meaning of the universe, you can be sure that whatever you are saying is wrong. Logic is a tough mistress.

  64. James

    The last time I checked, every religion doesn’t have any evidence for the “why”. I have not one reason to believe in Jesus as in any other myth.

  65. JLD: No big deal. The internet is made for misunderstandings, it seems.

    PK: Sorry for seeming snide; it was intended to come across as friendly–semantics really is a problem when terms need to be clearly defined, and often depend on the transient definitions-for-the-argument that exist solely to make sure everyone is on the same page. Most several explanations for the big questions are self-consistent but contradict each other, which is what I was trying to get at, and yes, assuming one answer per big question, then all but one (if not all) of those reasoned solutions are incorrect. I am not at this point willing to make the assumption that the big questions, being big questions, have singular answers, as it seems more productive (for me) to keep ‘answers’ in tension and maintain the possibility of not just modification but multiple solutions.

    To James:

    > The last time I checked, every religion doesn’t have any evidence for the “why”. I have not one reason to believe in Jesus as in any other myth.

    True. Neither does science (as the question is currently not within science’s domain of inquiry). The answer to “why,” and indeed the fact that the question even exists, is in essence an existential question whose answer by and large depends on the individual asking. Given a lack of evidence, one can make a decision arbitrarily (the choice of the absurd); one can make a decision based on preferences (which are themselves influenced by the one’s personal growth and evolution in his environment); one can defer to the scientific method and decide the question, being absurd, has no answer (which is an answer in and of itself); all among other things. The fact that the problem is not necessarily one purely of reason tends to suggest emotion will play a factor, and perhaps a decisive factor in the decision. Even if the choice is made [as] rationally [as possible], an emotional weight will be attached to it as a person holds closely to it in response to external pressures; if it was an emotional decision, it will later be rationalized for the same reason.

    No one has any ‘reason’ to believe any given myth or lack of myth over any other (some will dispute the ‘lack of myth’ as a belief, but that’s a different matter) and so, short of sociability constraints that prevent religions that allow for virgin sacrifice and the like, I err on the side of caution and leave that as a free choice to the individual, as it’s certainly not a scientific issue (take JLD as a good, positive example).

    To John Paradox, regarding “elephants all the way down:”

    Given that spacetime seems to be an internally consistent and universally entwined set, what happens ‘before’ the Big Bang and, thus, before time is an absurd question that may as well be answered “purple, because ice cream has no bones.” In this case, both ID and SCI are in the same boat because both (in your example) are positing some sort of extrauniversal ’cause’ for the universal ‘effect’ of existence; the only difference being whether or not this cause has motivation or not. Both thus fail logically on ‘turtles all the way down’ or removing the discussion to an infinite agent, if that’s the way it wants to be taken.

  66. Kirk

    Uh Oh — re: JLD’s “Feel free, by the way, to tell me what part of evolution theory precludes God”. The part that allows that the species evolved — clearly there is a need in some to fill in the unknown or unknowable by ascribing gaps to a supreme being.

    As to JLD’s: “Now, as for your crack inferring that the older, educated, thinking public doesn’t believe in God…… Rubbish. Some do, some don’t”. Sir, I’d suggest a re-read of my comment as I did not make the statement you suggest. This is, perhaps, an example of the effect of polarization as opposed to nuanced discussion. If nations conducted discussions in this manner they’d go to war (as our ID influenced administration appears to have done).

    Signing off — as (jailed) Congressman Trafficant frequently said: “Beam me up Scotty”

  67. In the interest in better communication, I don’t think JLD was suggesting “what in evolution precludes God from a description of a natural process” so much as “what in evolution preclues God, period.” Evolution does indeed posit that God is unnecessary as part of the description of the method of speciesation (the truth of the statement “is God involved in any way” is irrelevant scientifically as the process can be explained in naturalistic terms and science specifically precludes the supernatural from explaining natural events, thus making the question scientifically absurd). As just suggested, evolution does not ‘disprove’ God so much as ‘prove’ that invoking It is not necessary to explain the development of life.

    From my understanding, JLD is a theistic evolutionist, not an uncommon descent / special creation / particular creation IDer as is commonly understood here.

    (And why is it that people ask others to re-read what they already wrote [and was apparently demonstrated to be unclear] than to clarify?)

  68. Irishman

    A few points…

    The Centipede said:
    > No. The ‘laws’ of physics, thermodynamics, and universal gravitation are also “just” explanations of natural phenomenon. They are all “how” matters. They are only ‘laws’ because they have not been disproven; they are essentially very well backed up theories.

    No. I do understand and agree with your points about the distinction between how and why questions, and that “why” is a meaning word, vs. an explanation word. But there is an important distinction between scientific laws and theories that is glossed over by equating them.

    Laws are descriptions of behavior. They are “this happens in this way”. They are typically mathematical formulas for getting the right results. Laws themselves do not explain why they are accurate. They either give the right result or a wrong result. (Or a right result with certain assumed qualifiers and initial conditions.) Scientific laws (and “principles”) are descriptions that with a given set of conditions will provide the accurate result. Theories are the attempts to explain why the laws give the right results. They are the framework of ideas to justify the math having the form it does. Laws are descriptions of behavior, theories are explanations of what makes the behavior the way it is.

    Regarding Entropy, entropy is a term for a measure of the distribution of energy. The terms “order” and “disorder” are tossed around, but confuse many people. “Order” is a measure of clumpiness. “Disorder” is a measure of evenness of distribution. A pile of sugar is ordered into a pile, vs a smooth layer across the whole table surface. Entropy increasing means the tendency to “disorder”, i.e. the tendency to evenness of distribution rather than clumping.

    And don’t get confused, because sometimes energy controls how things clump and whether they can unclump or not. That’s why some exothermic (heat emitting) processes in chemistry are not necessarily spontaneous, and need activation energy to begin.

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in the absence of an input of energy (i.e. a closed system), entropy increases (processes move toward more even distribution). The Earth has a huge energy input source – the Sun. Ergo, entropy on Earth is not constrained to only increase. Local decreases are allowed. Life is a form of clumpiness (entropy decrease), but it is driven by the energy balance.

    JLD said:
    > I believed in Intelligent Design (still do) long before anybody coined that term. I also agree completely with the tenet of separation of church and state.

    There is much confusion over the use of “Intelligent Design”. I am not aware of it having an early history of different from current use, but the current use of Intelligent Design is to refer to a specific set of tenets with respect to the ideas of origins and development of life. ID specifically refers to more than the idea that God played a role, but rather to attempt to justify and delineate that role scientifically. ID focuses on Irreducible Complexity and Specified Complexity as those means and mechanisms. That is how ID is more than just theism – it is the attempt to measure God’s input. That is also why ID is bad science – it has been shown to be faulty in underlying principles and logic, and it has been refuted directly in the scientific literature. Using the term “Intelligent Design” to mean “I think God is responsible” is sloppy. It plays into the “scientists are anti-religion” stereotype and overlooks the intent of the ID proponents. Theistic Evolution is a more proper term for the idea that Evolution is God’s mechanism for developing life.

  69. Irishman:

    Fair enough, I concede theories versus laws. I was working against the apparent “just a theory” or “just an explanation” concept Terry seemed to be working with (and my own ignorance doesn’t help much in that regard). You’ll also get no argument from me concerning how the 2LT works; my only issue was trying to explain to Terry that even in the open-system definition entropy still tends to increase due to fusion reactions in the Sun.

  70. JLD

    Judging by the comments on this subject, I’ll accept the idea that I have been using the term “Intelligent Design” sloppily and that my position is more accurately described as “Theistic Evolution.”

    Centipede is correct, by the way, in his interpretation of my “What in evolultion Theory precludes God?” question.

    It’s been an interesting discussion, but now I’m gone for the holiday. Thanks to all who responded to my comments.

  71. PK

    Centipede, not a problem: I too always forget that the other commenters cannot read my bodylanguage as I type my remarks.

    You are right, though. But when I have to choose between the obviously contrived “answers” of the various religions (that ultimately fail to deliver) and the liberation of the atheist option, the latter feels right to me.

  72. > the latter feels right to me.

    And the deistic one feels right to me. That (and the fact my prime mover god doesn’t tell me to kill or otherwise oppress you and your lack of god doesn’t tell you to kill or otherwise oppress me) is all that matters. :)

    [requisite Monty Python Quote] “My lack of God! It’s Comrade Trotsky!”

  73. Lurchgs

    Why did I just *know* a Monty Python quote was coming?

    I must say, the conversation with Terry has been quite enjoyable in almost all regards (one or two short-tempered people made brief appearance

    I did notice that nobody directly answered Edward C’s question (or did I simply not see the response?)”What is Intelligent Design (In the context of evolution)”

    In the cntext of evolution, ID is to Evolution as fish is to fowl. Evolution (the fish) swims through the water, filtering and feeding and eliminating the crap. ID (the fowl) swims on the surface, barely getting its feet wet, scaring the fish, and injecting crap from other sources

    Fortunately, all crap eventually falls to the bottom

  74. > Why did I just *know* a Monty Python quote was coming?

    It’s an Internet law, like Godwin’s, and the situation needed levity added.

  75. Nigel Depledge

    JLD said:
    “We then move on in to the study of natural selection and eventually human evolution. WHEN the subject of intelligent design is broached by the students I tell them the truth. ID is a belief that evolution happens, but is guided by God. I then return to why God is outside the realm of science, etc…”

    As I believe others have pointed out, the term has changed.

    ID, as expounded by the fellows of the Discovery Institute, is largely a negative proposition: they attack evolutionary theory (or, in actual fact, some straw-man parodies of evolutionary theory), claim that evolution can’t happen, and conclude that ID (aka special creation) is a better “explanation”. However, if you press any of them to explain exactly what the “scientific theory of ID” actually is, they will not be able to answer without reference to existing evolutionary theory. This is because their theory is based on nothing more than argument from ignorance, argument from personal incredulity and a false dichotomy (they reject evolution and conclude that their “theory” is better, but they make no affirmative arguments in favour of ID).

    “Theistic evolution” (TE) is indeed a better description of your belief.

    However, there is also this to consider: in nature, there is no evidence to support the proposition that evolution has been guided. This is not to say that it cannot have been guided, just that there is no evidence to support the idea of guidance (teleology). There is also evidence to suggest that evolution has no foresight and has occurred in the absence of guidance (for instance, blind cave-dwellling animals that possess non-functioning eyes, but eyes nonetheless; the inefficiency of the human female pelvis; and others).

    Thus, from a logical perspective, it makes far more sense to conclude that evolution has taken place without any guidance having happened. Partly this is due to the principle of Occam’s razor: in the absence of evidence to suggest guidance, it is more logical to conclude that there was no guidance until and unless evidence comes to light to indicate that guidance of evolution occurred. There is also the evidence indicative of the absence of guidance in many cases: if we have many examples that indicate that evolution occurred without foresight and without any guidance, then it is no great leap to conclude that no guidance of evolution occurred.

    Now, this brings me to my own opinion on TE: it comes in two forms. Form A is that the TE believer believes that evolution was guided by God, despite the lack of evidence to support this idea and the existence of evidence to the contrary. Hence form A, while more logically supportable than ID or YEC, is still illogical. Form B is that God created everything at the beginning (let’s call it the Big Bang, for the sake of argument), and set up all natural laws and forces to produce what we see it has produced, in the full foreknowledge of what would occur. Form B is a weaker form of TE (it requires less divine intervention, but at the same time precludes the belittling of God as a tinkerer), but it is consistent with all of the known evidence. In fact, it is hard to conceive of any evidence that would contradict form B of TE.

  76. They’re not doomed yet, but the folks of Florida’s Polk county are headed that way

    I disagree. Between the 2000 presidential election debacle, Kent Hovind, Boca Raton (spam capital of the world), the Elian Gonzales nonsense, and on and on and on, Florida has been doomed for a long time.

  77. Shane

    Thanks to The Centipede and later Irishman I think I finally get the link between the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and evolution and how it is being misused by the IDiots. A fair dinkum light bulb moment. Thanks. One thing I don’t understand is why they just don’t keep increasing the size of their closed system – the earth sun system obviously doesn’t cut it, so how about the whole universe. That is a closed system – entropy increase. Ta da, and now I can make cretinist arguments. The second thing is their attempts to use one branch of science to invalidate another to reinforce religious or unscientific claims. Why don’t they just say god did it for everything? It must be one very peeved off deity because its believers have so little faith in their convictions that they have to use secular sounding arguments. Oh that’s right politics. To get around stuff like constitutions and the like you have to lie.

    One more thing, some have mentioned, rightly, that ID doesn’t belong in the science classroom but concede that it could be taught in another class. Why and how? As an excercise in critical thinking perhaps? But what high school has classes in critical thinking as such? I’d suggest most schools are too busy doing the basics – english, maths, science, history, geography etc to waste time on ID. Otherwise where do you draw the line on any discredited belief system?

  78. I smell a conspiracy here. Florida is the state that put Bush in the White House in 2000…. AND Bush has said he has doubts about evolution. Coincidence?

  79. Quiet Desperation

    >”Florida is the state that put Bush in the White House in 2000″

    Yeah, all those other red states as NOTHING to do with it.

    http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/election/graphics/statesfinal.gif

  80. Quiet Desperation

    >”Florida is the state that put Bush in the White House in 2000″

    Yeah, all those other red states had NOTHING to do with it.

    http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/election/graphics/statesfinal.gif

  81. Quiet Desperation

    This site needs better posting software. :(

    A preview button would be nice, at least.

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