Thursday, May 19, 2005

Santorum invokes Hitler

Ho hum. Yet another outrage by some wingnut. Check it out here.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Evolution Ruse

My friend Halifax has asked my opinion on a recent article from the Boston Globe about Michael Ruse, a “philosopher of science” who supports evolution. He has teamed with a proponent of Intelligent Design in his latest book and offers theories regarding the fronts in the war between evolutionists and creationists. He believes that evolutionists have been ineffective in getting their point across to creationists and therefore Ruse teams up with a follower of Intelligent Design supposedly to promote evolution. I’ll summarize a few points about the article.

1) The social Darwinism mistake.

From the Boston Globe article, “Evolution is controversial in large part, [Ruse] theorizes, because its supporters have often presented it as the basis for self-sufficient philosophies of progress and materialism, which invariably wind up in competition with religion.”

Darwinism pertains to biology, and biology alone. It is neither a social theory nor an economic theory. Granted, many scientists and nonscientists alike have been enamored with the sheer elegance of natural selection over the past century and a half. History has been littered with sociologists and economists such as Herbert Spencer, T.H. Huxley and Karl Marx who could not resist the temptation of (inappropriately) applying Darwin’s unique theory to various other fields of discipline, but that does not negate the eleganct usefulness of Darwin’s theory as it pertains to biology.

Supposedly, even Darwin himself considered the social manifestations of natural selection, but his conjecture was never pursued further than a few idle thoughts in letters to personal friends. This could hardly serve as the basis of widespread dissolution of Darwinian biology as certain creationists have argued. Creationist, David N. Menton, PhD states: “When man ceases to give credit to God as Creator, he generally gives the credit to nature (evolution). Not only is nature then perceived as ‘creator’, but also man's guide for morality and behavior.” As obtuse as this statement seems to me, after reading it a few times I guess I can see why Old Testament literalists would take issue with Darwinism taken to social and moral extremes. As someone who understands Darwinism, I would reassure Dr. Menton that biologists are not out to steal his morality or his faith in God—he can have them. We just want science taught in science class and religion taught in religion class.

Ruse says, ''This is a fight about different worldviews.'' I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth. This fight is about the purity of biological science and the ability for school teachers to present it as such. The fight is about diluting evolution as presented within a science curriculum with creationism and intelligent design, and any number of other improvable and irrational ideas that relate more to religion than science. Biology is one single natural science and it should not be made into a “worldview” of religion, philosophy, sociology and economics.

2) Science as knowledge; religion as belief.

The Globe article says that “according to a Gallup survey released last November, only about a third of Americans believe that Darwin's theory is well supported by the scientific evidence, while nearly half believe that humans were created in more or less their present form 10,000 years ago.”

This disturbing statistic demonstrates my point exactly that science as taught today is not presenting evolution in a responsible way. Every new finding since Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859 has corroborated his theory of natural selection and disproved the Biblical teaching of an earth lifespan of 10,000 years; yet more believe the latter than know the former. Science should not be subject to the wiles of democratic votes. Just because millions of red-state troglodytes believe something doesn’t make it true. Likewise, Galileo was nearly executed because he disagreed with the erroneous conventional wisdom of the day about planetary motion*. Our school systems are charged with turning out the next generation of scientists and researchers who will have a lot of problems to solve; let’s not prolong this conspiracy of ignorance any longer.

The Globe article states: “But Ruse asserts that popular contemporary biologists like Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins have also exacerbated the divisions between evolutionists and creationists by directly challenging the validity of religious belief…”

I feel that E. O. Wilson is one of the least understood philosophers of our time. His book Consilience has been much maligned by religious people as being anti-religious, and having read this work a few times, I cannot see the argument. As a scientist Wilson observes nature and attempts to reduce it down to its component parts. In Consilience, he casts his scientific eye on human social structure and religion and looks for reasons why we believe the things we do. Why do we have faith in irrational things? Wilson conjectures, sometimes wildly, and comes to no concrete conclusion. That’s philosophy.

Ruse unfairly castigates Wilson by describing his ''search for objective reality'' as a replacement for religious seeking. Rather than a “replacement”, Wilson is looking for a ‘rationale for religion.’ In my opinion Wilson’s Consilience is an unparalleled opportunity for us to benefit from a scientist’s truly philosophical appraisal of the human condition and his work hardly challenges the “validity of religious belief.” The fact that Wilson has drawn ire from religionists and rationalists alike could be evidence that he is either pushing the envelope of our understanding or that he is simply way off base; I prefer the former. If fundamentalist religionists cannot grasp Wilson’s point, then screw ‘em. I am less familiar with Dawkins’ religious views, and reserve judgment on his work.

3) Evolution vs. Mythology.

The Globe article says: “If the book raises hackles, though, it also raises critical questions. Given the inherent conflict between evolution and a literal reading of Genesis, does it really matter what evolution's advocates say? Or are creationists bound to attack evolutionary science regardless? And to what extent does Ruse's own approach, as the in-house critic of evolution's advocates, help or hinder his cause? ...Evolution is so embattled, Michael Ruse argues, because Darwinians have historically tried to compete with religion.”

Oh my. Ruse is exactly 180 degrees off on this. Evolutionists did not pick any fight with religionists; most understand the inability of fundamentalists to wrap their minds around anything more comlex than a football game. Unfortunately, in modern America irrational anxiety-based beliefs will trump rational scientific observation almost all the time (reference Iraq and the fear of WMD.) Creationists are certainly bound to attack evolutionary science on every front because they fear for their souls. Teachers are merely asking for a few hours within a science curriculum to present scientific findings of geology, biology, anthropology, genetics, and archaeology and to show how they support natural selection and species evolution. And not having to compromise their principles and waste valuable time passing off wild irrational theories and mythologies as science. Go ahead and teach the Bible and creationism-- in religion class. Is treating the Bible as an historical science book truly appropriate in 21st century America? Evolution is “so embattled” because raving religionists have irrationally targeted it as the cause of humankind’s social and moral undoing. Evolution led the 20th century assault on relegating the various stories of the Bible to allegorical mythology, and in so doing, evolution has attracted the wrath of innumerable panic-stricken ideologues.

Intelligent design is the theory du jour. It maintains that plant and animal species are too complex to be a product of gradual evolution and some higher intelligence must be responsible. Arguments fly back and forth, and evolutionists cite biochemical and genetic mechanisms and physical evidence in the form of fossils to support their theory that chemicals and energy can form single-cell life forms which in turn evolve over time into complex organisms. [Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God is an excellent summary.] In the end, intelligent design proponents shrug and state that while evolution may have occurred as theorized, so may intelligent design be correct, too. This is tantamount to watching the evening news and puzzling about the workings of a television set, having an electrical engineer explain in detail how it works, then scratching your head and concluding, “yeah, well I still believe that Tom Brokaw is sitting in that box talking to me.” I’m not sure even religion class is ready for this malarkey.

The Globe article says that “Ruse acknowledges this dynamic. But he says that precisely because scientists ‘are plunged into a situation not of their own making,’ they should change tactics, and seek out religious moderates who might be willing to accept evolution if it were presented in a more diplomatic manner….Ultimately, Ruse says, 'Evolution is true. Evolution works.' But as he sees it, the traditional ways of presenting evolution have hurt as much as helped. [emphasis mine]”

I appreciate Ruse’s sentiments and I welcome his diplomatic patience on the issue. My cynicism sees that religious ideologues have assaulted the moderates with fear-based irrationalism to the point that large numbers of Americans see all social ills as the result of “moral relativism” as supposedly espoused by Darwinists and rationalists. If "religious moderates" fall for this slop, then they are well down the path of ignorant banality, and certainly any chance of luring them back to reality would not be improved by espousing something as imbecilic as intelligent design. Back to E. O. Wilson: he would argue that social values and morality are somehow programmed into our biological makeup, and humankind would do well to pursue this connection and work toward real solutions to our problems instead of perseverating on with current fear-based tendencies which will eventually destroy our planet.

Eugenie C. Scott, an anthropologist who is executive director of the National Center for Science Education, is one of the most eloquent advocates for evolution. She argues that the debate should not be about the individual religious beliefs of scientists, but rather about the validity of the narrow scientific theory being discussed. Natural selection, as presented by Darwin in Origin of Species, is simple to understand. In fact, its elegance is due largely to its simplicity. It’s not morality, it’s not social science, rather it is a simple biological theory—which just so happens to have been supported by a mountain of other findings in the last 150 years. Not a single scientific finding in any scientific field—not one—has disproved or even legitimately countered evolution. Dr. Scott argues that to have another generation of school children grow up without proper instruction in such a fundament of science would be an egregious indictment of our educational system.

Ruse seems passionate in his support for evolution and for that I admire him. His tactic, however, of teaming with a proponent of intelligent design risks the degradation of pure science apparently to sell a few books. Intelligent design is not bad science, it is not even non-science. It’s certainly not religion. In fact, I do not know how to characterize it at all, except as one more snotty Kleenex cast into the waste bin of our pop culture. Not knowing him or having read his book, I can only conjecture on the motives of Michael Ruse and his recent collaboration. Certainly, the media hype will furnish generous readership from the religious right to this latest pseudo- “disproof” of the demonic Darwinists—which tells me that this philosopher may indeed be living up to his surname.

*thanks to Vorkosigan at

This blog has also been published at dailykos here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Election 2000 Redux

The erudite contributor known as Commonsensical has accused the Florida Supreme Court of “legislating from the bench” during the Florida 2000 election when they allowed Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris to delay her vote certification. I vociferously disagreed and I’ll explain why. (Furthermore, I feel that this issue of “activist judges” is pure unadulterated bullsh*t, and becomes dangerous when Republican politicians make veiled threats to judges who disagree with their views--but that’s another issue.)

We all know that I never made a big deal over the 2000 election results. As Vincent Bugliosi and others stated at the time, Gore was in a Catch-22, and coupled with partisan decisions made by Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, he was never going to win Florida. But for anyone to say that “Gore didn’t have the votes” is not only disingenuous, it is altogether unknowable—they were never counted. As Josef Stalin said, “Those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes [or in Harris’ case: refuse to count the votes] decide everything.”

From the USA Today, the Florida 2000 vote:

Gore lawyer David Boies said the Gore campaign's appeals raised two questions:

• When can Harris certify the statewide ballot?

• Should Harris wait for the manual recount tallies from Palm Beach and Broward counties, two Democratic strongholds, before deciding whether to accept or reject them?

According to Boies, Florida law says a statewide certification can be blocked if Harris rejects "a number of legal votes sufficient to change or place in doubt the outcome of the election."


Boies appealed after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, a Democrat, ruled against Gore earlier Friday.

Lewis ruled that Harris "exercised her reasoned judgment" in deciding to reject manual vote recounts filed after a November 14 deadline.

All 67 counties submitted their vote totals by deadline.

But the counties of Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward were conducting or considering manual recounts of some or all votes cast within their borders and told Harris they would file amended totals.

Lewis on November 14 said Harris has the authority to accept or reject such amended totals filed after the November 14 deadline.

However, [Judge Lewis] told [Harris] to base her decision on proper "discretion," ordering her not to reject any amended total simply because they were filed after the deadline.

On Wednesday, Harris announced that she would reject the amended totals.


On Thursday, the Gore campaign told Lewis that Harris had violated his order by acting in an arbitrary fashion, asking the Democratic judge to declare the preliminary statewide vote certification "null and void."

Lawyers for Harris and Bush argued that Harris exercised proper discretion.

They said the law requires counties to file by deadline unless natural disasters or malfunctioning balloting equipment prevented vote tallies. The counties did not raise such problems, therefore Harris rejected hand recounts, they said.

The problem from Gore’s standpoint is that the law allowed Katherine Harris to use her “discretion” and she made an arguably partisan move by rejecting the prospect of amended totals. We all know that the Florida SC agreed unanimously (7-0) with Gore that if manual recounts are allowed by the Florida Constitution, then a reasonable amount of time should be given for such recounts. Commonsensical, that’s an “interpretation of the law”, NOT legislating from the bench.

The US Supreme Court eventually intervened in a split decision (5-4) that the 2-county recounts should stop because they violated the equal protection of the other 65 counties who did not enjoy recounts. (SCOTUS never mentioned the lack of protection for the 5 or 6% of the 2-county vote that was not counted versus the 2 or 3% in the other more Republican counties: no equal protection there?) So, Gore was in a Catch-22: Florida law allowed only for recounts in counties that have suspicious vote tallies, yet SCOTUS disallowed partial recounts. Hmm.

I do not see Judge Lewis “legislating from the bench” as Commonsensical has accused him of doing. Now, if he had mandated Harris to delay the vote certification, then that would possibly be an example of “legislating from the bench”, but many would still argue otherwise. The courts are required to interpret the intent of the law, and to protect the rights of the minority—in this case the citizens whose ballots were not counted properly.

The Democratic argument has always been that:

1)According to the US Constitution, the states are allowed to choose their electors by their own prescribed methods, unless their methods do not allow equal protection for all voters.

2)Florida law states that the election judges have a duty to attempt to determine the intent of each individual voter, to the best of their ability. Running faulty ballots through scanners does not necessarily fulfill that obligation.

3) If equal protection is an issue in state Florida, then SCOTUS did not ensure proper attention to equal protection of the 2-county region whose votes were not counted to the same degree as the other 65 counties.

In conclusion, I have always opined that on that cold November morning, more Americans and more Floridians intended to vote for Al Gore. This, however, is an unproveable hypothesis and therefore I have never pushed the issue. As far as the Florida SC “legislating”, I would say that you should truly re-think this premise and come up with a better example of “legislating from the bench.” Furthermore, I would argue that the best examples of activist judges are actually Republican appointees, with Justice Scalia the best example (here’s the link of a NY Times opinion piece.)

I’ll go one step further and say that I feel that the events of the past 4 years have shown evidence of the Bush team lying and cheating and cooking intelligence to meet their predetermined goals; so, I am becoming more and more convinced that stealing the Florida election in 2000 is not as far-fetched as I once thought. And I cannot fathom how anybody, let alone a majority of supposedly informed Americans, could have re-elected Bush in 2004. A sad, dark and dreary time indeed. As John Dean, Nixon’s Chief Counsel and later detractor says, Bush’s presidency is “Worse than Watergate.”

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Kudos to Bush?

I will be the first to speak when I disagree with Bush, so it is only fair that I give the guy his props on the rare occasion that I agree with him.

Michael Kinsley has offered a magnanimous olive branch to the Republicans and I think the Democrats should heed his advice. Bush has inexplicably taken on Social Security, a federal program with a few problems; when other programs—Medicare and Medicaid-- are arguably in much more desperate shape. Let’s give Bush the progressive SS fix and privatization, as long as it’s voluntary. Then we can move onto more pressing issues…

Kinsley states:

"Even more to Bush's credit, the plan he's backing is highly progressive. Benefits for low-income workers would keep rising with average wages, as now, but benefits for middle- and high-income people would be geared more toward merely keeping up with inflation. This allows Bush to say that no one's benefits will be cut, although some people will be getting as much as 40 percent less than they are currently promised. But in the swamp of Social Security politics, that is really minimal protection from the alligators.

So Democrats now face a choice: Are they going to be alligators on this one? Why Bush has taken this on remains a mystery. There is no short-term political advantage, and there are other real long-term problems that are more pressing. But he has done it, to his credit.

As this column has argued to the point of stupefaction, Bush's privatization ideas are a mathematical fraud. There is no way that allowing people to manage part of the money they put into the system can produce a surplus to supplement their benefits or cushion the shock of the necessary cuts. But if privatization is truly voluntary, it can't do much harm. And if that is Bush's price for being out front on a real solution to the real problem, the Democrats should let him have it."

Kinsley goes on to opine that the Democrats know deep in their hearts that SS must change eventually, so why not let Bush take the heat—that’s what he is paid to do after all. This is not to say the Democratic leadership will be wise enough to heed Kinsley's advice; they seem to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Sen Reid, Rep Pelosi, are you listening?

Pope addendum

New evidence now shows that in 1997 Pope Benedict XVI, then a bishop, attempted to cover up the sex abuse scandal occurring in the US.

I also find it odd that many socially conservative, mostly Protestant, middle Americans feel they have an ally in this Pope merely because he has a reputation for conservatism. They seem to forget that the new Pope views them as heretics who have left the one true Church of Jesus Christ. The Boston Globe reports, “His 2000 statement Dominus Jesus (Lord Jesus) raised grave concerns among both Protestants and non-Christians. In it, he claimed that, because ``followers of other religions . . . are in a gravely deficient situation,'' the church must ``announce the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the church through baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God.''