Dispatches from the Creation Wars

For the Record…

I have been very careful in my posts about the various disputes among the anti-ID folks not to make the issue a personal one. These are disagreements, clearly, and they’re not going to go away. But I have kept my focus exclusively on the validity and wisdom of our respective positions, not on the personalities involved. Sadly, PZ Myers cannot seem to do the same. In his post on the subject he sees fit to throw in several gratuitous insults, calling me “that sad panjandrum of the self-satisfied mean, medium, middle, moderate, and mediocre” as well as a “clueless non-academic” and various other things.

I’m not going to respond in kind, but I will note that this immediate turn to the personal attack is not a surprise to anyone who has seen the same behavior in private exchanges on this and similar subjects. I’ll also note that this behavior only confirms what I’ve been saying, that those on the “other team” are so fanatical and demand such complete fealty to their full agenda that anyone falling short of that is subject to personal attack. The historically inclined will note that this is very common behavior among extremists.

Let me also note the further irony that Myers claims to be the victim of mass misrepresentation by all of the folks who have chimed in to agree with me, yet his post is absolutely packed full of misrepresentations of what we’ve said about his position. For example, he asks:

What awful thing could Moran have said, on top of the usual pile of criminal sins of overt atheists so numerous they don’t need explanation, that would justify calling us “disturbing and dangerous” and “appalling and vile”?

But I didn’t call them either of those things. I did say that Moran’s reaction to the situation, specifically his argument that all college students who don’t believe in evolution should be expelled, was “disturbing and dangerous.” I stand by that opinion. And I did not say that I find Myers or Moran “appalling and vile”, I said that I find the authoritarian tactics they advocate appalling and vile. Surely that is fair comment. Disagree with it if you like, but don’t pretend that I was talking about them as people rather than referring to their positions.

Myers also accuses me of “placing Moran in opposition to improving science education:” I did no such thing. I’m quite sure that both Moran and Myers want very much to protect and improve science education. My argument has been that their anti-theist zeal clouds their judgement on how best to do that and undermines our efforts to do so in a number of ways. That argument has thus far gone entirely unanswered, primarily because they are too busy pretending I’ve said things I haven’t said.

He further claims that I have “erected this astonishingly black-and-white fantasy where there is this totalitarian group of atheists seeking world domination.” This is an absurd exaggeration. I haven’t said anything about atheists seeking world domination, for crying out loud. I’ve referred to their authoritarian tactics, and I’ve been specific about what those tactics are, but Myers is vastly exaggerating my position here.

But perhaps the most reality-impaired passage from his post is this one:

He’s saying that those “who want to divide the movement” are handing victory to the fundamentalists in a post where he and Ed are explicitly dividing the movement into two opposing “teams”. It’s a single sentence, Pat, and you are plainly committing the sin you damn Moran for! And “damn” is a mild term for the scorn Ed and Pat pour onto those who are less sanguine about the destructive influence of religion on our culture.

This is addressed to Pat Hayes. As I’ve noted already, I have not criticized Moran or Myers for “dividing the movement.” The movement is already dividedl; it always has been and it always will be. And there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that. My argument is that his team has an entirely different goal than ours, and their pursuit of that goal undermines our ability to achieve ours (not because they don’t want to protect science education, but because they are focused so obsessively on getting rid of any religious position, even if those positions are strongly in favor of good science education).

Second, one can only note the irony (read: hypocrisy) of Myers feigning outrage at the “scorn” being “poured onto” him and Moran when, in fact, he is the one who has launched the personal attacks. And the absurdity of accusing me of not being sanguine enough about “the destructive influence of religion on our culture.” I spend an enormous portion of my time fighting against the negative influence of religion on our culture.

The difference between us is that I don’t think that religion is exclusively negative in our culture. Religion also motivates many good things along with the undisputed bad things it inspires. And for a great many people, their private religious views are simply of no consequence to me, nor should they be to him. We can fight against those negative aspects of religion without A) claiming that every religious person is an idiot or B) attacking every single religious person or group including those who are firmly on our side in the science education battles.

Comments

  1. #1 Lettuce
    November 24, 2006

    Ed, I thought that “panjandrum” thing was actually pretty deft, einther did I find any of that post “gratuitous”…

    I say this as someone who, while being considerably apart from you politically, think you’re one of the few honest brokers on any side, one of the better writers and one who generally comes to the “right” conclusion.

    And as one who used to fin PZ strident. But then again, I’m also an atheist and I was concerned about turning folks off.

    The hell with those people.

  2. #2 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    Well, I’vew grown to wonder about the distinction between attacking ideas and attacking the person. Calling someone’s ideas disturbing and dangerous is inevitably an aspersion on the holder of the ideas. Both sides could tone down the rhetoric here.

    I’d make a distinction between admitting someone as a college student and admitting someone to a biology program. If someone ideologically rejects the central theorem of biology, then I think not admitting them to a biology program is a legitimate policy. I’d extend that to biochemistry, chemistry, and even, possibly, any science program. You can’t be a real scientist while rejecting the methods of science, and it’s not our business to do a religious conversion under the guise of education. But there are scads of other fields where one can prosper while rejecting the scientific method.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    November 24, 2006

    Whether one should admit a creationist to a biology program is a different question. Moran’s position had to do with incoming freshmen and was based solely on whether they believed in evolution.

  4. #4 gary l. day
    November 24, 2006

    Anyone who has tries debating with rightist extremists, be they right-wing political extremists or right-wing religious extremists (often–not always–they overlap), quickly witnesses the descent into misrepresentation and personal invective. Personally, I think most of them are incapable of rational, dispassionate discourse. Also, those few who ARE capable usually decline to do so because correctly applied logic almost always undermines their positions and arguments.

  5. #5 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    Moran quite specifically says he’s referring to biology programs.

    http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2006/11/ed-brayton-speaks.html

    He says his previous remarks were in jest.

  6. #6 Orac
    November 24, 2006

    Moran’s words were a pretty crappy jest, then.

  7. #7 Miguelito
    November 24, 2006

    After reading Moran’s first comments on the subject, the post that started this all, I thought he was being serious and couldn’t see the joke. For this, I thought Ed was in the right when jumping on his comments.

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    November 24, 2006

    Gerard-

    And as I’ve already noted, his claim to have been joking might be more compelling if he hadn’t turned around and reiterated it in the very next paragraph.

  9. #9 Orac
    November 24, 2006

    Ah, but Miguelito, clearly you and I are either too stupid or too humorless not to have seen the joke. ;-)

  10. #10 Raging Bee
    November 24, 2006

    Another “botched joke?” I had my fill of those with “We do not torture.”

  11. #11 egbooth
    November 24, 2006

    Ed said:
    “Whether one should admit a creationist to a biology program is a different question. Moran’s position had to do with incoming freshmen and was based solely on whether they believed in evolution.”

    This seems to be going against what you’ve previously said. If you had your creationist ideas as a HS senior, do you think it would have been fair for you to be denied admittance into a biology program as a freshman? You just said how horrible HS science education is. I think you would agree with me that it’s still possible for a church-going kid who believes in creationism to be interested in studying biology. If the university’s biology program is in fact a good one, the kid will most definitely part with his unacceptance of evolution. If he doesn’t, his poor grades should not allow him to graduate. Either way (if the kid accepts evolution and graduates or denies evolution and doesn’t graduate), it’s a case of the scientific system within a good university working on all cylinders.

  12. #12 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    Oh, I agree. I would not have known he was kidding. And in any case anyone who’s been on the net for more than a month should know that any even slightly non-obvious humor, if not flagged as humor, will not be detected as humor by at least 50% of the readers.

    And anyone who’s been on the net for more than ten years knows that it has a tendency to spawn flame-wars and if one cares about things like democracy and civil discourse and the commonwealth, one needs to make a conscious and deliberate policy of toning down one’s rhetoric. And I write as someone who’s as guilty as the next man. But this particular schism disturbs me.

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    November 24, 2006

    egbooth:

    I said it was a separate question; I didn’t say how I would answer it. My point was that Moran was not merely talking about who gets into a biology program, but about who gets into college at all.

  14. #14 argystokes
    November 24, 2006

    I don’t think Moran has any idea of what he’s talking about. And by that I’m not saying I disagree with him, but rather his posts make no sense in any kind of practical context. His original post used the term “flunking” for what he thought should be done with incoming college creationists (how would one do this, since they’ve already been accepted, but haven’t taken any courses?), while also suggesting that admission standards need to be revised, which to me did imply some sort of litmus test (which PZ does explicitly reject).

    However, his response to Ed rather suggests that science majors who reject evolution should be flunked, which I kinda sorta agree with, but doesn’t really mesh with his original post. Frankly, I think the guy hasn’t bothered to think the thing through clearly and thus hasn’t been able to express his ideas coherently. Therefore, any posts attacking or defending what one thinks are his ideas are bound to be full of strawmen. He doesn’t have a position, he’s just venting, and making an ass out of himself in the process.

  15. #15 SteveF
    November 24, 2006

    Just to add further fuel for the fire, in the comments PZ said to me:

    “What is the matter with you people? Stop listening to the lies of people like Ed Brayton. I have not ever so much as suggested that the theistic evolutionists must be silenced.”

    He had rather missed the point I was making, but nevermind. Orac jumped in later to call him on this (the accusation of lying) and a number of PZs regulars, er, disagreed with Orac.

  16. #16 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    I think you would agree with me that it’s still possible for a church-going kid who believes in creationism to be interested in studying biology.

    Sure. All the time, we encounter math-challenged students interested in studying Engineering. But it doesn’t work.

    The fault, IMHO, lies in the people who indoctrinate kids with loony ideas. It is not our job to deprogram, it’s our job to educate. If people as a matter of ideology reject the central ideas of science, then they should be denied admission to science programs. And let’s remember that YECcers don’t just reject evolution; they reject anything that implies an old universe.

  17. #17 Orac
    November 24, 2006

    He had rather missed the point I was making, but nevermind. Orac jumped in later to call him on this (the accusation of lying) and a number of PZs regulars, er, disagreed with Orac.

    And started calling me “dishonest” as well (well, one commenter, anyway, and I was pretty sure he was just trolling, which is one reason why I decided I was wasting my time there).

    PZ was totally unjustified in accusing Ed of lying, IMHO. Not that I’ll ever convince him of it, apparently or even get him to see why others might reasonably perceive his accusation as unjustified–which is another reason that I decided that I was wasting my time over there.

  18. #18 SteveF
    November 24, 2006

    PZ has some fairly run of the mill keyboard warrior style commentators. They are best ignored; on issues like this, I try to engage with the man himself and ignore the large amounts of extraneous noise.

  19. #19 Jason
    November 24, 2006

    Ed,

    Just for the record (and as I’m sure you’re well aware), this sort of thing has been going on in one form or another for some time.

    I remember a thread at Pharyngula a while ago along the same subject line, and I put it to Dr. Myers: Explain to me how the cause of improving science education is furthered by denigrating everyone who holds religious belief.

    I received no response.

    I still don’t understand how publically stating, “Everyone who believes in God is delusional” helps to improve science education. Maybe it’s just me, but all that seems to do is piss off a bunch of people who otherwise might help us in our common goal.

    Unless one believes that it’s impossible to both believe in God and good science education.

    And if someone actually does believe that, then one has to ask: Exactly who is being delusional here?

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    November 24, 2006

    steve f wrote:

    Just to add further fuel for the fire, in the comments PZ said to me:

    “What is the matter with you people? Stop listening to the lies of people like Ed Brayton. I have not ever so much as suggested that the theistic evolutionists must be silenced.”

    That’s what is so frustrating about this whole thing. I have never said anything even remotely like claiming that Myers thinks theistic evolutionists “must be silenced.” In the process of claiming to have been misrepresented, he is flagrantly engaging in misrepresentation himself. Yes, I made a very poor choice of words when I used the cliche phrase “by any means necessary.” I’ve already explained that I certainly did not mean to imply that Myers or Moran want to round up Christians into camps or commit violence against them (that accusation would be so absurd that it simply never occured to me that anyone could interpret it that way; had I given it more thought at the time, I would have been much more specific). I’ve been pretty specific, however, about the actual tactics that they have advocated and the rhetoric they’ve used that I object to. They seem much more interested in responding to the straw man version of what I said rather than the real version.

  21. #21 G. Shelley
    November 24, 2006

    I’ll also note that this behavior only confirms what I’ve been saying, that those on the “other team” are so fanatical and demand such complete fealty to their full agenda that anyone falling short of that is subject to personal attack.

    Yeah, that’s not sinking to his level at all, extrapolating from his overeaction to insulting everyone who disagrees with you

  22. #22 David Heddle
    November 24, 2006

    Gerald Harbison,

    You are a bigot, pure and simple. The only legitimate basis you have for refusal to admit a student to a science program is that they fail to meet the standards in terms of GPA, class rank, SAT scores, achievement test scores, etc. The only legitimate academic reason to flunk them out is if they do not master the content. You are not a soldier of the thought police, as much as you’d like to be–you don’t get to ask them whether or not they actually, in their heart of hearts, believe the material. It’s not your job–it’s just the desire of your infantile bigotry, as it is for the M&M’s. You teach them, you test them, and you advise them. Unless they initiate the interaction, everything else is none of your figgin’ business. You’re a lowly, dime-a-dozen professor, not a guardian of the Republic.

    As you wrote, but then ignored, it is your job to educate. That’s all your job is. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp.

  23. #23 jpf
    November 24, 2006

    Ed, if you’re going to be splitting hairs over calling someone’s ideas “disturbing, dangerous, appalling, and vile” and calling the person “disturbing, dangerous, appalling, and vile”, then you should be a little more careful in attributing supposed insults thrown at you.

    Myers didn’t call you a “clueless non-academic”. Here’s the paragraph of his in which that phrase appears:

    Almost all universities have these little things called “admission requirements” and “standards”. For instance, we expect you to have graduated from high school before we let you in, or to have demonstrated equivalent competence. We look at your grades, and we may reject you if you don’t have a record of discipline and competence. We evaluate standardized test scores, which is a far crueler and more arbitrary mechanism for filtering our admissions. We have application essays, and at the more prestigious universities, admission interviews. I am not surprised that a clueless non-academic would be unaware that we already have many intellectual barriers (often, barriers that are too low) in place, but what is wrong with those academics who are aghast at Moran’s proposal?

    He is clearly using the phrase to refer to hypothetical person unfamiliar with all the “intellectual barriers”, and is not applying it to you.

  24. #24 Russell
    November 24, 2006

    As much as I despise Creationism, I agree with David Heddle and disagree with Gerald Harbison. I don’t think a science program should have any required doctrine. It should require its students to understand the theories involved, know what has been adduced as evidence for them, and expect them to work intelligently with that material, at one level when they are admitted, and at a better level before they graduate.

    But belief?

    No, thank you. Leave that requirement for seminaries.

  25. #25 Rob Knop
    November 24, 2006

    I’d make a distinction between admitting someone as a college student and admitting someone to a biology program. If someone ideologically rejects the central theorem of biology, then I think not admitting them to a biology program is a legitimate policy.

    There are levels.

    If somebody has been through an undergraduate biology major, and still doesn’t accept evolution for the standard creationist or ID “reasons,” then I’d be nervous. I’d take that as evidence that they didn’t really learn what they needed to learn in their biology program.

    On the other hand, consider somebody who’s been brought up a strict creationist, who believes in a young Earth and special creation, and thinks that evolution isn’t scientifically supported. Suppose this person comes into college and wants to study biology. I’d be all for it. This is a young person who hasn’t learned a lot, and has been exposed to an extremely stilted view of science. Give him or her the chance to study biology in college, to really learn what evolution (and so forth) is all about. If, at the end of that, the person still makes the usually idiotic creationist claims about evolution not being scientifically supported, then, yeah, that person shouldn’t be admitted to any kind of biology grad school. At that point, they have enough education that they should know better, and not knowing better is evidence specifically of poor judgement, not just of particular religious beliefs or of a particular background.

    I’ve known at least one student who came into a Physics program as a young-earth creationist, raised that way by her family and her church. I remember hearing comments about her early in her undergraduate career about how she was uncomfortable in some of her classes, because of discussion of age of the Universe stuff was in contradiction to her beliefs, and yet the professors seemed so sure that the old-Universe stuff was right. Well, by the end of this student’s undergraduate career, she was an athiest. She realized that many of the things she’d been taught in religion didn’t make any sense given our modern scientific view of the world, and she threw the whole thing out of the window.

    Different people may take different things away from this story. Doubtless PZ and the like will be pumping their arms in joy and crowing about the success of higher eduction. Doubtless the religious extremists will be wringing their hands and pointing to this as proof that their warnings are right: the liberal academic elite seeks to destroy the religious faith of America’s youth.

    The lesson I take away from this is different from both. The lesson I take away from this is that if you raise your children with religious indoctrination that bladly, blatantly contradicts extremely well-documented facts about our world, you are raising your children in a non-viable religion. When they are exposed to the world at large, they probably will lose their faith altogether, given that it has been tied to so many patently false things. If you want your children to have a chance of holding on to their faith after they go to college, don’t raise them on backwards creationist theology. Raise them to *think* about their religion, to consider it intelligent, and raise them on a form of your religion that isn’t directly in contradiction with well-established facts about the world. The latter will leave them with a religion that’s potentially compatable with what they’ll learn out in the big broad world, and the former will give them the tools to really approach their religion intelligently; to adapt if, if they see fit, when they learn things that seem to contradict it, or to abandon it if they come to conclude that they don’t need it. But if you raise them on false dogma without the ability to think critically about it, they’ll have only the choices of abandoning it, or becoming willfully ignorant about the world in order to cling to it.

    -Rob

  26. #26 Rob Knop
    November 24, 2006

    He is clearly using the phrase to refer to hypothetical person unfamiliar with all the “intellectual barriers”, and is not applying it to you.

    I love the fact that PZ can be absoltely as antisocial, rude, and aggressively assholic as he wants, and that there will be a legion of loyal followers who will find the weally ways to claim that PZ wasn’t being direclty insulting.

    PZ himself tends to insult people for being insulted by him. After all, if you are insulted by him, it’s just evidence that you’re stupid or something, and didn’t understand the ultimate reason behind his assholic behavior at which any reasonable person would simply wryly chuckle.

    Ed doesn’t stoop to personal insults, but I will, since PZ directed personal insults at me long before I think scienceblogs.com even existed: PZ is an arrogant ass. He’s biogoted against any of the religious, and he’s extremely rude in an uncalled-for-manner for those who call him on it.

    -Rob

  27. #27 egbooth
    November 24, 2006

    Gerald Harbison wrote:
    “All the time, we encounter math-challenged students interested in studying Engineering. But it doesn’t work.”

    Wow, that is really disturbing coming from a teacher.

    I had plenty of friends that were horrible at math in high school. One of them turned out to graduate with a 3.5 GPA in biomedical engineering from Wisconsin. Yeah…you’re right it doesn’t work.

  28. #28 JimC
    November 24, 2006

    You’re a lowly, dime-a-dozen professor, not a guardian of the Republic

    Thats freaking ridiculous and insulting to those in academia. Most professors produce work of their own in addition to teaching the young minds in their class. Your scorn of them is simply absurd.

    He’s biogoted against any of the religious,

    No he is not. He can’t stand religious ideas and the lack of backing they have behind them. Big difference. His own mother is a religious person and he loves her dearly. So your argument is rather weak here.

    blatantly contradicts extremely well-documented facts about our world, you are raising your children in a non-viable religion.

    So that pretty much makes Dawkins and PZ correct.

    Raise them to *think* about their religion, to consider it intelligent,

    Consider it intelligent? To believe in the majority of outlandish claims religions make? Why raise them to bother with it at all?

  29. #29 Jason
    November 24, 2006

    (Posted at Pharyngula)

    If Dr. Myers’ “strategy” to improve science education (i.e. to deny admittance to all incoming freshmen who don’t fully endorse evolutionary theory) were in place in the late 1980’s, I would not have ever earned my multiple degrees in the biological sciences, become a professional biologist, or become a strong advocate of science education (including evolutionary biology).

    You see, unfortunately in a lot of places throughout the US, incoming freshmen haven’t had much of an education in evolution, and have instead been exposed to a large amount of creationist propaganda. So while they might not be “creationists”, they might come in harboring some doubts about the validity of evolution and common descent. But it’s not because they’re incompetent (as Dr. Myers suggests, “I think it is entirely reasonable for a university to say, for instance, that you need to be able to read with a certain level of competency“); it’s solely a result of their background and upbringing. And oftentimes, once such people enter into the biological sciences at the university level, they quickly learn that evolutionary theory is supported by the data and creationism is falsified by it. I’m living testimony of that.

    Interestingly, at one point Dr. Myers seems to recognize this effect when he states, “Educated people tend to shed religious beliefs more readily, or adopt religious beliefs that do not conflict with reality.“.

    Ok, so we agree that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to question and alter their religious beliefs. Now, that would logically seem to suggest that in order to combat religious fundamentalism and its influence on science education, we should do whatever we can to educate the religious. But apparently, Dr. Myers would take the opposite approach, i.e. deny access to higher education to those who don’t come in already fully endorsing evolutionary theory.

    Bizarro world indeed.

  30. #30 sam
    November 24, 2006

    Something entirely missing from the discussion of admitting or not those young people with differing or religious based views of science is the fact that anyone can pass a test and not believe what they’ve been taught. One can learn the facts of evolution and regurgitate those facts during testing yet still hold onto beliefs based in their religious upbringing that are contrary to those facts of evolution. I don’t have to believe the Bible to be able to remember my childhood and answer Jeopardy questions about biblical subjects. How would one go about entering the heads of students to assure themselves that the students really learned or believed the material as opposed to saying what was needed to pass the test? And this is in addition to the many argument already listed against the practice of non admittance based on beliefs.

  31. #31 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006

    The problem with the whole attitude that students should believe in evolution before coming to college is that (unfortunately) science is not a basic area that they are exposed to in high school. It is rather like insisting incoming students must take a stand on Keynesian economics or the poetry of Restoration England. It just isn’t relevant to the question of their ability to learn.

    So Moran was simply wrong to say (jokingly or no) that any view of evolution is wrong. That is what remains to be determined.

  32. #32 jpf
    November 24, 2006

    He is clearly using the phrase to refer to hypothetical person unfamiliar with all the “intellectual barriers”, and is not applying it to you.

    I love the fact that PZ can be absoltely as antisocial, rude, and aggressively assholic as he wants, and that there will be a legion of loyal followers who will find the weally ways to claim that PZ wasn’t being direclty insulting.

    Legion of loyal followers? I make one comment that the claim by Ed that “clueless non-academic” was an insult aimed at him might have been wrong when viewed in context and now I’m… well, cast as one of the PZ Myers Team.

    Jesus fuck, Rob, you’re behaving just like PZ is accusing people of behaving in that post (and I only know his accusation since I had to read the whole thing just to see if there wasn’t another use of “clueless non-academic” aimed directly at Ed later on.)

  33. #33 Leni
    November 24, 2006

    jpf wrote:

    He is clearly using the phrase to refer to hypothetical person unfamiliar with all the “intellectual barriers”, and is not applying it to you.

    I don’t know. That looks like an insult to me. Had he just said “non-academic” I think you’d maybe have a point. The “clueless” sort of gives it away. Not to mention the string of unflattering adjectives referring specifically to Ed in the beginning of the post.

    More importantly, he’s only marginally engaging the content of Ed’s post. He could have done a lot better and he could have just left all the extraneous crap out. Don’t waste your time pretending it’s not an insult.

    For the record, I don’t think it was fair for Ed to use Moran’s stupid comment as a battering ram. Just like I don’t think it’s fair for PZ to flip out on Ed’s badly phrased “by any means necessary” and call him a liar.

    The whole thing (at least it initially could have) can pretty much be summed up with “sometimes people say stupid shit that in retrospect might have been phrased better”. Life goes on. And since, as far as I can tell, no one is actually suggesting we have an entrance test asking potential students to declare their beliefs why is this even an issue?

  34. #34 jpf
    November 24, 2006

    The problem is that singling out the quote fragment “clueless non-academic” from its context as one of only two examples of PZ’s insults aimed at Ed given above the fold, makes it seem that PZ was being an elitist and dismissing Ed for not having academic credentials and being clueless in general.

    That’s the impression I got when I read Ed’s post — and I can’t imagine I’m the only one — so I had to go over to PZ’s site to see if that was what PZ was actually saying. It was not.

    In context, the “clueless” is in reference to his list of “intellectual barriers”. PZ is saying that it is unsurprising that someone who isn’t an academic and is clueless about the topic would be unaware of those barriers, but that academics should be aware (and by PZ’s reasoning, not be aghast at Moran’s proposal.)

    The paragraph was aimed at the academics he’s arguing with, not Ed (unless you can show the part where PZ accuses Ed specifically of not being aware of those things), and he isn’t calling non-academics clueless in general.

    That “clueless” is a more connotatively insulting sounding choice and might have been phrased better with a more neutral word like “ignorant”… well, Ed doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with “clueless” as a descriptor.

    Misleading out-of-context quotes are rightfully corrected when creationists engage in them. Let’s not have double standards.

  35. #35 Leni
    November 24, 2006

    kehrsam wrote:

    The problem with the whole attitude that students should believe in evolution before coming to college is that (unfortunately) science is not a basic area that they are exposed to in high school. It is rather like insisting incoming students must take a stand on Keynesian economics or the poetry of Restoration England. It just isn’t relevant to the question of their ability to learn.

    I’ve been thinking about this. And while I agree that it would be silly to expect kids to be educated before we educate them, there is no prevailing social barrier against either of the things you mentioned, and we therefore don’t see alot of people rejecting these ideas (although the second isn’t so much an idea) out of hand. In those cases most people are willing to admit they either don’t know anything about it or just don’t care. But evolution? Apparently every backwater reverend with a second grade education is an expert enuough to preach against it from a pulpit.

    Anyway, your examples could have been better. For example, a student who was applying for admission as a physics major and declared in their admission letter that the “theory of gravity was just a theory”. And went on to say the real explanation was that some “intelligent, conscious uber-force was gently pushing down on everything”, or something similarly ridiculous. I would think that would be grounds enough for most sane people to seriously consider rejecting this applicant in favor of applicants without idiotic ideas that went squarely against the science of the major they were applying for.

    I’m not suggesting that we ask students beforehand and reject them on the basis of their answers, but if you knew, and if you were in charge of admitting students, it seems that admitting the student with the crackpot theories over other students who demonstrated a clear understanding of what they were signing up for would be not only irresponsible but unfair.

    In any case, the truth is that the problems relating to science education aren’t Dawkins’ or Moran’s or Myers’ fault. Those problems existed long before them. And they will likely persist long after. It is not because of “evangilical atheists” (whom almost no one listens to anyway) that large percentages of the public have always and will continue to reject science that contradicts their dearly held religious beliefs. The problem is that they all believe in the divine revelation of a book which tells them that it is virtuous to believe in things that do not coincide with reality.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with Dawkins or Sam Harris or PZ Myers. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most Americans don’t even know who Dawkins or Harris are. They certainly don’t know who PZ Myers and Larry Moran are. Those men aren’t the reason large numbers of religious people reject science, and they aren’t the reason large numbers of high school students think they know more about science than scientists do; churches are, end of story.

  36. #36 Leni
    November 24, 2006

    jpf wrote:

    That “clueless” is a more connotatively insulting sounding choice and might have been phrased better with a more neutral word like “ignorant”… well, Ed doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with “clueless” as a descriptor.

    I didn’t say the insult itself was a big problem. I just said you shouldn’t waste our time pretending it wasn’t one.

    We are all (mostly) grown-ups here and the occasionally lobbed insult is not the end of the world. Especially if it’s kind of funny… and coupled with a cogent argument.

    But in this case it was really neither. It was mostly just shitty and dripping with sarcasm and hyperbole.

  37. #37 Russell
    November 24, 2006

    Sam writes:

    Something entirely missing from the discussion of admitting or not those young people with differing or religious based views of science is the fact that anyone can pass a test and not believe what they’ve been taught. One can learn the facts of evolution and regurgitate those facts during testing yet still hold onto beliefs based in their religious upbringing that are contrary to those facts of evolution. I don’t have to believe the Bible to be able to remember my childhood and answer Jeopardy questions about biblical subjects.

    The difference is that in the case of biology, the claims and methods they learn are intimately related to facts in front of their nose, where with the Bible, most of the claims have little relation to anything other than religion. Biology doesn’t have to enforce a creed, because working with the same facts and the same methods, the vast majority of biologists will reach similar conclusions about the theory, whether or not they are named Steve. And those who don’t might be onto some improvement to the theory. True, there might be a slim minority who are able to build conceptual walls so high that they treat the data as answers in a Jeopardy game. But science departments should no more winnow on that risk, than on the risk that a student will get hit by a bus shortly after graduating.

    It’s important, in a seminary, that people learning to be preachers not only recite the right words, but that they believe. That’s what faith is about, and is a requirement when the core of what is taught has so little contact with facts before your nose.

    Science, fortunately, is different. It is a cure for faith. Let the cure work.

  38. #38 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    The only legitimate basis you have for refusal to admit a student to a science program is that they fail to meet the standards in terms of GPA, class rank, SAT scores, achievement test scores, etc. The only legitimate academic reason to flunk them out is if they do not master the content. You are not a soldier of the thought police, as much as you’d like to be–you don’t get to ask them whether or not they actually, in their heart of hearts, believe the material. It’s not your job–it’s just the desire of your infantile bigotry, as it is for the M&M’s. You teach them, you test them, and you advise them. Unless they initiate the interaction, everything else is none of your figgin’ business. You’re a lowly, dime-a-dozen professor, not a guardian of the Republic.

    A few personal issues there, I see, David. You should be less obvious about them.

    Science education is not merely a matter of memorizing facts, or even learning to do calculations. It’s teaching a way of looking at the world. if you start with a set of premises that rules out the most logical explanations of the data, you get, at best, complete incoherence; and at worst ‘creation science': immense amounts of time dedicated to shoehorning the facts into some bizarre, supernatural explanation of the world. There’s no point in teaching first order radioactive decay kinetics to someone who can’t a priori accept them.

    And by the way, please note the correct spelling of my name.

  39. #39 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    Wow, that is really disturbing coming from a teacher.

    Sorry to disturb you. But yes, there are a significant number of students who badly want to be engineers who can’t manage the calculus sequence. Perhaps you can suggest a solution, preferably one that doesn’t involve graduating mathematically illiterate engineers?

  40. #40 jpf
    November 24, 2006

    didn’t say the insult itself was a big problem. I just said you shouldn’t waste our time pretending it wasn’t one.

    Well, is it a waste of time pretending that PZ called Ed a “clueless non-academic”, as Ed claimed in no uncertain terms, when in fact no where in the linked post does PZ say “Ed is a clueless non-academic” or “In that paragraph where I used the phrase ‘clueless non-academic’ I was referring to Ed” or words to that effect?

    Since “What PZ said” was pretty much the whole point of this post and the follow up, call me clueless, but I was kind of under the impression that that would be a suitable subject to respond on and not just a waste of people’s time.

  41. #41 DuWayne
    November 24, 2006

    jpf –

    In the fifth paragraph of a post responding to Ed, Myer’s says this;

    I am not surprised that a clueless non-academic would be unaware that we already have many intellectual barriers (often, barriers that are too low) in place, but what is wrong with those academics who are aghast at Moran’s proposal?

    Who the hell are we supposed to think he is talking about? This is in response to Ed. Now whether or not that is an insult can be argued, but I think it is abundantly clear that he was calling Ed a “clueless non-academic.”

  42. #42 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006

    But yes, there are a significant number of students who badly want to be engineers who can’t manage the calculus sequence. Perhaps you can suggest a solution,

    Hmmm, maybe not give them a passing grade when they can’t do the math? That method made a social scientist out of me pronto.

    More to the point, there is a large distinction between not being capable of performing the work for a given degree and having a philosophical disagreement with the majority of professors in ones discipline.

    As I argued earlier, it is entirely possible to have a theistic understanding of the universe and still accept the current scientific theories on any given field of study. This is not, in fact, a rejection of science. It is merely suggesting that science cannot give a full accounting of reality, and even has a proper scientific basis (Goedel’s Theorem). The position of EZ et al is simply untenable on this issue. Peace to all.

  43. #43 jpf
    November 24, 2006

    DuWayne –

    Why the hell does “clueless non-academic” have to be a specific person? That paragraph is aimed at “those academics who are aghast at Moran’s proposal”. (PZ’s post wasn’t just a response to Ed, but also “John Lynch, Pat Hayes, and Nick Matzke” and presumably others.) He is saying that they, of all people, should be aware of the “intellectual barriers”. He’s allowing that a “clueless non-academic” might not be, but that they should.

    Since PZ doesn’t accuse Ed anywhere else of being unaware of those “barriers”, why do you read that as an insult aimed at Ed? He’s not the only non-academic in the world.

    At the very least, the way Ed presented that quote on its own without context is misleading (it makes it sound like PZ is being elitist and dismissing someone for being a non-academic, which was the impression I got before reading PZ’s post), and since Ed’s gripe with PZ is partially about being mischaracterized by him, its not for the best to do the same to him.

  44. #44 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    More to the point, there is a large distinction between not being capable of performing the work for a given degree and having a philosophical disagreement with the majority of professors in ones discipline.

    A disagreement with the theory of evolution is not a ‘philosophical’ disagreement in the field of biology. ToE is the central, unifying intellectual foundation of biology.

    As I argued earlier, it is entirely possible to have a theistic understanding of the universe and still accept the current scientific theories on any given field of study. This is not, in fact, a rejection of science. It is merely suggesting that science cannot give a full accounting of reality, and even has a proper scientific basis (Goedel’s Theorem). The position of EZ et al is simply untenable on this issue. Peace to all.

    That depends on the particular theistic understanding. it is impossible to be a biblical literalist and still accept the current scientific theories in most of science.

    And don’t quote Goedel’s theorem unless you can intelligently discuss it. It is a theorem of symbolic algebra, not science in general.

  45. #45 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006

    Gerard:

    Thanks for the condescension. It is always useful to raise the level of the debate.

  46. #46 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    Expain to me how I should debate someone who is clearly just namedropping stuff he doesn’t understand, without condescending to him. I suggest you review a good popular account of the Goedel theorem (Hofstadter has one in Goedel Escher Bach). And I suggest you also contemplate the idea that science is not mathematics, and that we don’t operate by means of formal proofs.

  47. #47 David Heddle
    November 24, 2006

    Gerard Harbison

    Science education is not merely a matter of memorizing facts, or even learning to do calculations. It’s teaching a way of looking at the world.

    You answer, rather predictably, is a bunch of self-delusional crap. If a student does the homework and passes your exams, then you must pass that student. Even if you know for a fact that he thinks everything you taught him is a bunch of BS. You simply don’t get to make that judgment. If you ever have, I dare you to make a public announcement of a student who mastered the material for a class but you flunked him anyway, because you didn’t like his world view. Or are you just pretending to be that important–come on, is this just talk, or have you practiced what you advocate?

    The tough reality is: If a student wants to take the science he learned and attempt to apply it to the worst kind of YEC creationism–them’s the breaks. If he got all the same scores on homework and exams as a poster-child for secular humanism, he gets the same grade. You see, neither you, PZ, Moran or anyone else has any say in that matter–and I know it must grieve you all, I’m sure you know what’s best for society.

    Alas, for all the preening, you’re actually quite impotent in this matter.

    Of course, ineffectiveness can be its own reward. PZ can spend the millennium blogging instead of publishing any research (as he seems to have done so far), and he’s protected by tenure. Fair enough. But what he doesn’t get to do is change the world, even a little bit. He just gets to pretend that he can.

    Same goes for you.

  48. #48 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006

    And don’t quote Goedel’s theorem unless you can intelligently discuss it. It is a theorem of symbolic algebra, not science in general.

    This is really just a pissed-off comment unrelated to the thread, but what the hell is Gerard’s point? Is he saying that science is not a formal system? He’s probably correct, but then does that not imply that it is less than a formal system?

    Since Goedel has demonstrated that there exist true statements unprovable in a formal system, does this not imply that there also exist such things in a less than formal system?

    If you want to debate issues in the philosophy of science, bring it on, I’ve got that covered. If not, what was the purpose of the insult?

  49. #49 Ed Brayton
    November 24, 2006

    jpf-

    The “clueless non-academic” comment was clearly aimed at me. Wilkins was basically saying, “well if you’re going to put Ed in that boat, put me in it too”. And Myers responded by saying he’s not surprised that a clueless non-academic (i.e. me) would say that, but not Wilkins. Reading the full thing in context makes it quite obvious that it was directly aimed at me.

  50. #50 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006

    Expain to me how I should debate someone who is clearly just namedropping stuff he doesn’t understand, without condescending to him. I suggest you review a good popular account of the Goedel theorem (Hofstadter has one in Goedel Escher Bach). And I suggest you also contemplate the idea that science is not mathematics, and that we don’t operate by means of formal proofs.

    Okay, I now understand the nature of the insult. You’re a fucktard.

  51. #51 PZ Myers
    November 24, 2006

    No.

    If you want, you can continue to parse it ever more finely and use your mind-reading powers to tell everyone exactly what I was thinking, but I think I have the absolute final say-so in what was going on in my own mind.

  52. #52 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    You answer, rather predictably, is a bunch of self-delusional crap. If a student does the homework and passes your exams, then you must pass that student. Even if you know for a fact that he thinks everything you taught him is a bunch of BS. You simply don’t get to make that judgment. If you ever have, I dare you to make a public announcement of a student who mastered the material for a class but you flunked him anyway, because you didn’t like his world view. Or are you just pretending to be that important–come on, is this just talk, or have you practiced what you advocate?,

    The issue was whether creationist students should be admitted to science programs, not how we grade students. Try to keep your anger to a level where you can at least stay on point.

    As for publications: I have around 85 peer reviewed pubs so far, including six this year. And you, Dr. Heddle?

  53. #53 kehrsam
    November 24, 2006

    Okay, I didn’t know about the 85 peer-reviewed pubs. You therefore must know that I “was clearly just namedropping stuff he doesn’t understand.” Changes everything.

    Asshole.

  54. #54 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    Since Goedel has demonstrated that there exist true statements unprovable in a formal system, does this not imply that there also exist such things in a less than formal system?

    The problem is even more basic. Proof, qua mathematical proof, isn’t something science concerns itself with.

    If you want to debate issues in the philosophy of science, bring it on, I’ve got that covered

    I’ve seen how you cover it.

  55. #55 DuWayne
    November 24, 2006

    kehrsam –

    Please forgive me, but I am taking a tiny bit of perverse pleasure at seeing someone be enough of a sanctimonious ass, as to make you lose. I am pretty sure this is the first time I have seen you go off like that.

    I am impressed Gerard, kehrsam is one of the most dispassionate, objective people who comments here. And you managed to get him cursing even. That takes a truly colossal asshole, congratulations sir.

  56. #56 DuWayne
    November 24, 2006

    sorry, that shouldn’t have read, a sanctimonious ass, as to make you lose. that should have been, “lose it.”

  57. #57 Gerard Harbison
    November 24, 2006

    That takes a truly colossal asshole, congratulations sir.

    Why do I get the feeling my drive to the hoop has just been praised by Michael Jordan?

  58. #58 David C. Brayton
    November 24, 2006

    Geez. The comments on this blog used to be informative and worthwhile. In the last few days they have quickly descended into the silly or irrelevant.

    Would Raging Bee please try to focus on the issue at hand.

    G Harbison/DuWayne/Kershm…Ed’s point was that we should focus on the issues and refrain from name calling yet you turned this very tangential argument about enginnering education into a flame war with really big words. Please stay focused on this issue.

  59. #59 DuWayne
    November 24, 2006

    Gerard –

    That is a truly great line, thank you. While I tend not to be loose with condescention, I am an entirely capable asshole. I just usually reserve it for, well, assholes.

  60. #60 David Heddle
    November 24, 2006

    Gerard,

    As for publications: I have around 85 peer reviewed pubs so far, including six this year. And you, Dr. Heddle?

    The exact number isn’t as important to me as it seems to be to you–but then you the one with delusions of grandeur, so it kind of makes sense that you’d have the number at your fingertips. Anyway, somewhere around 40. And I’ve been out of academia since 2001. What’s your point?

    Well, have you stuck to your principles and flunked someone whose world view you don’t like, or was just false bravado? I’m still waiting for your answer.

  61. #61 KANG
    November 24, 2006

    Puny Humans!

    Your petty bickering amuses me greatly. Mwa ha ha!
    Now, continue fighting!

  62. #62 JimC
    November 25, 2006

    I see Heddle is making his usual sactimonious contribution this time insulting professors as a whole.

    The quote below almost made me fall out of my chair laughing as given his usual commentary Heddle saying someone else has delusions of grandeur is hilarious:

    but then you the one with delusions of grandeur, so it kind of makes sense that you’d have the number at your fingertips.

    Shouldn’t anyone who has produced quality research remember it without it being an egotistical enterprise? I mean you did the work.

    Where are your ’40’ papers listed David? I for one am skeptical. Not saying you didn’t but given the way you present yourself I(and I’m sure others) have honest doubt.

    Of course, ineffectiveness can be its own reward. PZ can spend the millennium blogging instead of publishing any research (as he seems to have done so far), and he’s protected by tenure. Fair enough. But what he doesn’t get to do is change the world, even a little bit. He just gets to pretend that he can.

    Who are you to say PZ is ineffective? His research papers are easily searched for, he provides the largest science blog on the internet teaming with good science education, and is considered an excellent professor and man. It seems to me he has done more than a little to impact this planet of ours and in a positive way for science. He has changed the world already for many, many readers and more everyday. I can tell you firsthand I know numerous people who look to his website for many of their biology questions. So he already has succeeded where you say he can’t.

    I don’t think even those currently fighting with him over this particular dustup would disagree with that assessment. In other words you are simply, incredibly, back asswards wrong.

    And I’m wondering do you think you get to change the world or is this something you think you personally (in all your usual arrogance)can decide?

    And I agree with you if a kid passes the tests and gets credit for class he should enter college. But if a kid can’t grasp evolution as a concept and we reduce it down to getting simple percentages I’mnot sure he’s qualified for a degree in Bio either.

  63. #63 David Heddle
    November 25, 2006

    JimC,

    As for my papers, you can either search or, if you send me a polite email, I’ll send you a current cv.

    You are correct, PZ’s papers are “easy to search for.”

    You wrote:

    And I agree with you if a kid passes the tests and gets credit for class he should enter college. But if a kid can’t grasp evolution as a concept and we reduce it down to getting simple percentages I’mnot sure he’s qualified for a degree in Bio either.

    It has nothing to do with grasping evo as a concept. I agree if he can’t grasp evolution as a concept he should fail. That argument is not there. The point is: that’s in fact the only thing that matters. If he grasps it, masters it, and can regurgitate it on an exam–then he passes, even if he doesn’t accept it. Gerard et. al. don’t get to flunk him for that reason.

    And if they have, and if that’s a noble cause, then they should tell us that they have flunked a student who mastered the content but who didn’t accept the reality of what they taught. Otherwise they are just bragging about their fantasies.

  64. #64 Daniel Morgan
    November 25, 2006

    Let’s all be honest here — no one really wants, or thinks it even remotely practical, to start sending out questionnaires inquiring about peoples’ philosophical views on things. Even if Moran said it, and meant it, and wants it, it simply couldn’t happen.

    For one thing, as has been amply pointed out, belief and competency don’t correlate. I am quite literate in the Bible but I don’t believe any of its outrageous claims. Should I not be allowed to study it at a seminary?

    Let’s just all admit that basic competency is the issue here — that if kids can’t or won’t display proficiency in the rudimentary basics any subject, then they shouldn’t be allowed to try to enter advanced studies until they have the foundation. Now can everyone kiss and make up?

  65. #65 Kristjan Wager
    November 25, 2006

    That’s what is so frustrating about this whole thing. I have never said anything even remotely like claiming that Myers thinks theistic evolutionists “must be silenced.”

    Given the fact that you have said that PZ et al wants to fight religion by all means possible, I don’t actually think it’s too unreasonble a paraphrase of you representation of PZ’s views.

    Having said that, this is getting extremely silly. I can’t for the death of me see what this whole debate is good for. You might disagree with Moran or certain points, like PZ disagrees with Miller on certain points, but starting about teams, and disassociating yourself from the people who is plainly on your side, cannot in any way help spreading science. If you have a problem with their approach or ideas, fine, attack it by all means, but don’t start dividing people up in “teams”, and don’t attack the person or their motives.

  66. #66 Ed Brayton
    November 25, 2006

    Gerard-

    I agree with DuWayne, that was a truly great line.

  67. #67 Ed Brayton
    November 25, 2006

    Kristjan-

    Here’s what you don’t know about this fight: it’s been going on in private for a long time. I was declared by these folks to be a traitor and the enemy about this same time last year. Those declarations began with them, not with me. And believe me, discussions of this internal battle among anti-IDers goes on every single day among the larger group of us. It’s a constant source of friction. Myers has been writing criticisms of Genie Scott, Ken Miller and Lawrence Collins on the very same issues for months now. So let’s not pretend that I just willy nilly decided to divide us up arbitrarily. These divisions are real; they’ve been there for a long time and they’re not going to go away. All I did was put it out there publicly, bluntly, and accurately.

  68. #68 Kristjan Wager
    November 25, 2006

    Ed, it’s always about the others, isn’t it? What have you done to lessen the friction?

  69. #69 Kristjan Wager
    November 25, 2006

    That probably came out more bluntly than it should. But my point is real – I have been reading all of your blogs for a while now (before the move to Scineceblogs in most cases), and while I can see your point, I also seem to recall instances where your views cause frictions.

    How about people just acknowledge that there are some very real differences of view, but that the overall goals in regards to science are the same, and work from there? In other words, instead of speaking of teams, talk about how people can work together in spite of the differences, while at the same time acknowledging the differences, and peoples’ right to not only acknowledge the differences, but actively debate the problems they see with other peoples’ opinions, despite working together with them towards the overall goal.

  70. #70 Gerard Harbison
    November 25, 2006

    The exact number isn’t as important to me as it seems to be to you–but then you the one with delusions of grandeur, so it kind of makes sense that you’d have the number at your fingertips. Anyway, somewhere around 40. And I’ve been out of academia since 2001. What’s your point?

    You were the one who cast aspersions on my publication record and PZ Myers’. You tell me.

    Let me remind you of what you wrote.

    Of course, ineffectiveness can be its own reward. PZ can spend the millennium blogging instead of publishing any research (as he seems to have done so far), and he’s protected by tenure. Fair enough. But what he doesn’t get to do is change the world, even a little bit. He just gets to pretend that he can.

    Same goes for you.

  71. #71 Gerard Harbison
    November 25, 2006

    Let’s all be honest here — no one really wants, or thinks it even remotely practical, to start sending out questionnaires inquiring about peoples’ philosophical views on things. Even if Moran said it, and meant it, and wants it, it simply couldn’t happen.

    Well, that’s an element of reality that’s been missing from the discussion. Generally, we wouldn’t know, unless the student volunteered the information.

    At the same time, were I on an admissions committee, particularly for grad. or med. school, and a student did volunteer the information, I think I’d vote not to admit. There is no point wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to educate someone when the student has made it plain he rejects the central, unifying paradim of the field. And, for Dr. Heddle’s information, I do get to make those sorts of decisions. ;-)

    One other place this arises is when we consider the value of grades from private religious schools. There is a lawsuit in CA at the moment, because UC has been rejecting high school biology credits based on courses taught from creationist textbooks. I fully support UC in this, as I hope most of us would.

  72. #72 DuWayne
    November 25, 2006

    Gerard said –

    One other place this arises is when we consider the value of grades from private religious schools. There is a lawsuit in CA at the moment, because UC has been rejecting high school biology credits based on courses taught from creationist textbooks. I fully support UC in this, as I hope most of us would.

    With that I agree whole heartedly. If a kids homeschooled or private schooled, it behooves college and university admissions to ensure that what these kids are taught is legitamate. The only way to get schools to put that in line is by denying their students credit for BS classes. I think it’s a rotten break for the kid, but if they really want the education that institution has to offer they can remedy that short coming. On this we agree.

    At the same time, were I on an admissions committee, particularly for grad. or med. school, and a student did volunteer the information, I think I’d vote not to admit. There is no point wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to educate someone when the student has made it plain he rejects the central, unifying paradim of the field.

    Here I have a problem, though I don’t dissagree entirely. If that is your entire reason to nay say, it is wrong. If they are otherwise qualified and it is not a choice between them and someone who is equaly qualified sans the vocal creationism, that is not, IMHO, a legitamate reason to deny them. If they are that smart, do you really think they will complete your program without accepting the legitamacy of evolution? Certainly a few will, but I know very few people who have spent any time in college biology classes – regardless of major, who don’t accept evolution. That includes every kid I know now, who were in the same fundy perochial school I attended for a few years as a child. Believe me, I know a lot of people who were devout, vocal Christians/creationists going into college, who are far from it today – a result of their college education.

  73. #73 David Heddle
    November 25, 2006

    Gerard,

    I never even knew you existed until this exchange, and I have no clue if you blog. Surely the fact that our paths never crossed on the internet, and a modest reading skill, would have been enough to clue you in to the fact, in the blurb you quoted, the part about blogging and publications was directed at PZ, not you. Only the part about not changing the world included a reference to you.

    You seem to have lowered your bar. Now you’d “think about” not admitting a student who did not accept evolution, and only for grad/med school. The discussion started by Moran was about undergrads. So have you ever flunked an undergrad who mastered a course’s content or worked to deny admission to a high school student who met all the requirements because you didn’t like his world view?

  74. #74 Ed Brayton
    November 25, 2006

    I do support the UC in the lawsuit that the ACSI filed against them, and I’m certainly not opposed to college admissions standards at all. But bear in mind that what started all of this was a survey that found that 40% of incoming freshmen at UCSD saying they don’t believe in evolution. It had nothing to do with biology majors, or with knowledge of evolution, but just about belief. Certainly no one is going to argue that if a biology major doesn’t demonstrate an understanding of evolutionary biology they should be passed along. But I don’t think belief and knowledge are the same thing. Remember the case of Kurt Wise, who was a young earth creationist in Gould’s paleontology program at Harvard. He made no secret of his beliefs, but he was a top notch student who aced all the necessary coursework and produced, by all accounts, an excellent dissertation. There was a movement to try and deny him his PhD and Gould, to his credit, came to Wise’s defense. I would have done the same.

  75. #75 Gerard Harbison
    November 25, 2006

    If they are that smart, do you really think they will complete your program without accepting the legitamacy of evolution?

    Jonathan Wells did. On the orders of Father Moon, he got a Ph.D. in a biological science at Berkeley. all to get some credentials to attack evolution. He didn’t learn anything. Berkeley is a highly competitive school, and I look at Wells as an utter waste, and worse a perversion, of thousands of dollars worth of resources, and a place that could have gone to a student who would make use of the opportunity.

    That’s why I say we shouldn’t mistake education for deprogramming, or kid ourselves we are equipped to do the latter.

    As regards undergraduate education: I’m in two minds. I agree that few college-entry students know much biology, period. On the other hand, I’ve seen precious little evidence we’re doing much education of the seriously indoctrinated. I bet the students you know who’ve discarded fundamentalism did so as a result of the overall environment, and not of the biology classes they took.

  76. #76 Gerard Harbison
    November 25, 2006

    I do support the UC in the lawsuit that the ACSI filed against them, and I’m certainly not opposed to college admissions standards at all. But bear in mind that what started all of this was a survey that found that 40% of incoming freshmen at UCSD saying they don’t believe in evolution. It had nothing to do with biology majors, or with knowledge of evolution, but just about belief.

    I haven’t examine the biology texts in question at UC, but let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that they do a good job of covering most of the biology curriculum, including the theory of evolution, which they then go on to trash. The fragments I’ve seen have a lot of extraneous crap about God’s purpose in creating pancreases, etc., but let’s assume they otherwise cover the facts.

    So on what grounds do you consider them unsatisfactory, then?

  77. #77 Ed Brayton
    November 25, 2006

    Gerard-

    I’ve seen them, actually, and that stipulation isn’t even close. They aren’t just bad science books, they’re anti-science books. They repeat over and over again that one must dismiss any evidence that conflicts with their literal, young earth creationist interpretation of the Bible. There’s no way a reputable university should consider them as a legitimate science credit.

  78. #78 Gerard Harbison
    November 25, 2006

    So have you ever flunked an undergrad who mastered a course’s content or worked to deny admission to a high school student who met all the requirements because you didn’t like his world view?

    Most of the time I teach advanced physical chemistry. I do cover misuse of the second law by creationists as an example in class, but it has never been controversial. The founder of the ID club at UNL started as a chemistry major, but apparently he couldn’t handle the first semester p. chem., and so transferred to a biochem. major before I ever saw him. I did teach a freshman honors course a while back on the chemical basis of evolution, but none of the students who took it were creationists. That was a shame; but at least the students who did take it got some first-hand experience doing molecular phylogenetics, and can argue against creationist peers from their own, direct experience.

    But no one is discussing denying admission on the basis of a worldview. We’re discussing denying admission based on a priori rejection of basic scientific principles.

  79. #79 Gerard Harbison
    November 25, 2006

    OK, Ed, but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, there were a creationist textbook that was OK on the basic facts, and which covered evolution, only to then argue against it?

  80. #80 Ed Brayton
    November 25, 2006

    Gerard-

    I think it’s a closer question. Whether we should refuse to admit a student who doesn’t believe in evolution is a distinct question from whether a college should accept a high school credit earned in a course that doesn’t meet basic academic standards. The answer to the former is, in my mind, a clear and absolute no. The answer to the latter is closer and I’d have to think about it. As it is, the UC is absolutely in the right to reject the course in question.

  81. #81 DuWayne
    November 26, 2006

    Gerard –

    Thank you for clarifying. I am entirley ignorant when it comes to college/university admissions. I thought you were talking about under-grads – my misunderstanding.

    My statement about kids going through the program and coming out still believeing evolution is false was a generalisation. I realise there are aways going to be exceptions, but most kids will not make it through a secular college and not believe in evolution. And your right, it is not just the biology classes, the environment has a lot to do with it. The simple fact that most people there operate, teach, under the assumption that evolution is the only legitamate explanation for our origin, contributes as well. And no doubt, debauchery contributes a great deal to driving a wedge into their fundamentalism.

    Thank you for clarifying.

  82. #82 David Heddle
    November 26, 2006

    Gerard,

    I am in full agreement that a university should not have to award biology credits for a course that used a YEC textbook. As for Jonathan Wells, I can understand your frustration that he has a Ph.D. from Berkeley, but I think the argument that he wasted resources is problematic. First, in a sense, he didn’t “waste” anything. From all accounts, he lawfully applied his education exactly as he intended to. I don’t see how any mechanism that could intercept someone with unpopular (though perfectly legal) motivations for applying his education is a good idea. Secondly, one could just as easily establish measures by which many others have “wasted” their education. There are students with Ph.D.s in biology who have careers outside of the biological sciences. One could advocate screening out those who might switch fields because it would be better to reserve the biology education resources for those with careers utilize the material. The wasted resources argument is a non-starter.

    You wrote:

    But no one is discussing denying admission on the basis of a worldview. We’re discussing denying admission based on a priori rejection of basic scientific principles.

    Come on, it’s clear you were talking about creationists who reject evolution. We’ve been discussing a hypothetical creationist high school student who has met all the requirements but is adamant in his rejection of evolution, or a like-minded freshman who wants to declare a biology major. What if he can articulate the scientific method better than most grad students, but simply states that his application of the scientific method has led him to reject evolution? What about all the pro-evolution applicants who can not provide a cogent explanation of the scientific method? How seriously can you take an 18 year old’s a priori acceptance or rejection of anything? At 18, I was absolutely convinced that Ayn Rand was a genius. By 20, I thought she was a lunatic. I’m sure I’m not alone in having experienced a radical change in beliefs.

    I’ll end my part in this discussion where I started: any such attempt to screen-out students on this basis is discriminatory, and its proponents are advocating bigotry.

  83. #83 Gerard Harbison
    November 26, 2006

    Ed:

    The issue I’m working towards is that we have two issues here:

    A hypothetical student who is familiar with high school biology but rejects evolution for dogmatic reasons.

    A hypothetical textbook that completely covers high school biology but then goes on to dismiss evolution for dogmatic reasons.

    Now, clearly, a student that completely absorbs the material of the hypothetical textbook becomes our hypothetical student. If we accept that student’s biology credits for admission, we have in effect credentialled the course using the hypothetical textbook. UC’s position is that they won’t credential the course. They therefore reject the hypothetical student’s high-school preparation as inadequate.

    So suppose, now, we have a student who has taken regular high-school biology and has been taught to reject evolution by church or parents. That student knows exactly what the hypothetical student knows, and rejects what the hypothetical student rejects, for exatly the same reasons. However, if we adopt a policy of ignoring his rejection of evolution, we have in effect chosen arbitrarily to accept one student and reject another who has exactly the same knowledge and dogmatic belief set.

    It doesn’t work. If we reject a high-school course because it teaches a dogmatic rejection of evolution, we are on logically untenable territory if we accept students we know to dogmatically reject evolution.

  84. #84 Gerard Harbison
    November 26, 2006

    As for Jonathan Wells, I can understand your frustration that he has a Ph.D. from Berkeley, but I think the argument that he wasted resources is problematic. First, in a sense, he didn’t “waste” anything. From all accounts, he lawfully applied his education exactly as he intended to. I don’t see how any mechanism that could intercept someone with unpopular (though perfectly legal) motivations for applying his education is a good idea. Secondly, one could just as easily establish measures by which many others have “wasted” their education. There are students with Ph.D.s in biology who have careers outside of the biological sciences. One could advocate screening out those who might switch fields because it would be better to reserve the biology education resources for those with careers utilize the material. The wasted resources argument is a non-starter.

    It costs a great deal to educate a science Ph.D.. Consider that the tuition is paid; the student receives a stipend; and the student consumes a lot of expensive resources. I’ve never done the math, but I could easily come up with a total cost of $100,000 or more. Some of that is paid back in teaching and research product, but rarely 100%.

    Yes, the student might then leave science, and that would be an unavoidable loss; but the student would not then be actively working to harm biology, as Wells is doing. I wouldn’t consider a mere field change a loss, because a Ph.D. is a training in research in general, not a specific area. (My Ph.D. is in biophysics, but none of my teaching and only some of my research could be considered biophysics)

    How seriously can you take an 18 year old’s a priori acceptance or rejection of anything? At 18, I was absolutely convinced that Ayn Rand was a genius. By 20, I thought she was a lunatic. I’m sure I’m not alone in having experienced a radical change in beliefs.

    At 18 I thought I was an anarchist. :-) But the important issue is that a dogmatic rejection of evolution is a dogmatic rejection of the central theorem of biology. Unlike your erstwhile Ayn Rand adulation, it is directly relevant to one’s ability to study biology, and it is a complete bar to a fundamental understanding of the field.

  85. #85 Ed Brayton
    November 26, 2006

    I think that the notion that the average 17 or 18 year old has a “dogmatic” rejection of evolution is unlikely to be true. They may well reject it because that’s what they’re taught in church, but education will often change that. I know it did for me and for many, many others. Indeed, this is one reason why so many fundamentalists constantly urge people to pull their kids from public schools and to send their kids only to certain Christian colleges (not even all; a student attending Wake Forest or even Calvin College will likely get an education in these matters), because they know that education often undoes their indoctrination. And they’re right. So if we’re talking about who to admit to college at all, we will actually be undermining ourselves by denying admission to those who reject evolution. And even if we’re talking about admission to a biology program, we may well be doing the same thing. I just don’t think the university should even be asking what someone believes; they should be asking what they know.

  86. #86 Gerard Harbison
    November 26, 2006

    I’m not talking about college admissions. I’m talking about admission to biology programs, or science programs in general. I don’t care if a creationist student does a business or humanities major. And, as I’ve said, we really only know about the student’s ideology if the student volunteers it, say in an admissions essay.

    Before the recent elections, I had considered proposing that my university not accept Kansas high school biology credits for admissions, but I’m sure our administration would have refused to go along, because like most places they’re so desperate for out-of-state tuition they’d take credits from pretty much anywhere. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of university admissions.

    I doubt we’re very far apart on this; but in any case I think we’ve worked it to death.

  87. #87 386sx
    February 19, 2007

    Geez. The comments on this blog used to be informative and worthwhile. In the last few days they have quickly descended into the silly or irrelevant.

    I’m very sorry to hear that. It must be hell.

    Would Raging Bee please try to focus on the issue at hand.

    Yeah, good luck with that one.

    G Harbison/DuWayne/Kershm…Ed’s point was that we should focus on the issues and refrain from name calling yet you turned this very tangential argument about enginnering education into a flame war with really big words.

    Okay, thanks for the info.

    Please stay focused on this issue.

    Okey dokey. Have a good one.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.