Pharyngula

Rah, rah, RASC

Let’s encourage this trend of scientific societies coming out with unambiguous statements of support for good science. The latest addition is the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada-Ottawa Centre statement on evolution: it’s short and to the point.

The RASC Ottawa Centre supports high standards of scientific integrity, academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also respects the scientific method and recognizes that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypotheses, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others.

The RASC Ottawa Centre, then, is unequivocal in its support of contemporary evolutionary theory that has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been refined by findings accumulated over 140 years.

Some dissenters from this position are proponents of non-scientific explanations of the nature of the universe.  These may include “creation science”, “creationism”, “intelligent design” or other non-scientific “alternatives to evolution”. While we respect the dissenters’ right to express their views, these views are theirs alone and are in no way endorsed by the RASC Ottawa Centre.  It is our collective position that these explanations do not meet the characteristics and rigour of scientific empiricism.

Therefore the science agenda of the RASC Ottawa Centre and its publications will not promote any non-scientific explanations of the nature of the universe.

Comments

  1. #1 Justin Moretti
    May 30, 2007

    As one of those horrid believers in God out there, I hereby formally state my complete and total agreement with and support for every word you have quoted.

  2. #2 Gene Goldring
    May 30, 2007

    One more reason to be a proud Canuk.

  3. #3 Arnosium Upinarum
    May 30, 2007

    [sniff] Ahhh…I love the aroma of freshly shredded equivocation in the morning.

    Here, here! Encore!

  4. #4 Brownian
    May 30, 2007

    So are they saying they’re for it or against it?

  5. #5 Alex, FCD
    May 30, 2007

    So are they saying they’re for it or against it?

    They’re saying that they’re for real science and against creation science.

    Yay Canada, by the way.

  6. #6 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2007

    Therefore the science agenda of the RASC Ottawa Centre and its publications will not promote any non-scientific explanations of the nature of the universe.

    pshaw!

    all they have to do is simply change the definition of science like they did tried to do in Kansas, and the same worded statement above will let them teach Astrology as science.

    Just ask Michael Behe!

    šŸ˜›

  7. #7 Christian Burnham
    May 30, 2007

    Can someone give me an example of Canadians being incredibly idiotic?

    I’d like to think that stupidity is a worldwide phenomenon, which isn’t uniquely confined to the 50 states. At the moment, all I hear is that Canadians are more sophisticated than Americans in every way imaginable.

    Please restore my faith in worldwide stupidity.

  8. #8 CC
    May 30, 2007

    Christian asks:

    Can someone give me an example of Canadians being incredibly idiotic?

    Oh, man … ask and ye shall receive. Give me a day or so and I’ll be doing a piece on that.

  9. #9 remy
    May 30, 2007

    “Can someone give me an example of Canadians being incredibly idiotic?”

    Alas, we elected a xian fundie to the highest position in the land.

  10. #10 Ginger Yellow
    May 30, 2007

    Plus there’s the whole not-killing-Celine-Dion-at-birth thing.

  11. #11 Strange Forces
    May 30, 2007

    Power on, Canada!

  12. #12 AJ Milne
    May 30, 2007

    Can someone give me an example of Canadians being incredibly idiotic?

    In addition to the above-mentioned (winces painfully acknowledging it) creationist bullshitatoriam, our military is also currently involved in a land war in Asia…

    Yes, it’s a smaller museum, and a smaller war than the US’ Mesopotamian quagmire… But if you adjust for the population levels, and find the per capita idiocy…

    Sigh. Again.

  13. #13 Kelly
    May 30, 2007

    “Rah, rah, RASC”

    I see what you did there.

  14. #14 Eamon Knight
    May 30, 2007

    Alas, we elected a xian fundie to the highest position in the land.

    Fortunately, he only has a minority in the Commons, and he’s smart enough to realize that if he wants to hang on to even that (let alone expand it to a majority next election), he’d better not thump his Bible too hard. The country as a whole just doesn’t swing that way.

  15. #15 Theo Bromine
    May 30, 2007

    Can someone give me an example of Canadians being incredibly idiotic?

    Lest we Canadians break our arms patting ourselves on the back, it is worth noting that Jonathan Cucan, the vice-president of the Ottawa-based Citizens for Origins Research and Education is also a member of the RASC (Ottawa Centre). Some descriptions of his recent antics outside the RASC can be found here and here; I understand he has exhibited similar behaviour at RASC events.

    Bravo to the RASC for their official response to the idiocy.

  16. #16 Chuck
    May 30, 2007

    I mean, statements like this are great, but aren’t they manifestly obvious? Do respectable scientific organizations really have to put out press releases and mission statements citing their support for respectable science? It just all strikes me as yucky somehow. I can see the AAAS or some other organization at the interface between public policy and scientific research engaging in this, but I can’t really imagine professional societies like the American Chemical Society or similar organizations for geology or physics putting out statements saying they “support and endorse modern evolutionary biology”. It just seems outrageously unnecessary. Shouldn’t we assume that any self-respecting scientists endorses modern biological theory? It’s one thing for the National Center for Science Education to do this — they have a duty to defend scientific theories in the public sphere. It seems somehow different when research organizations get into the fray. Makes them less lofty, somehow. To me, of course all bench scientists doing research accept all of science – or should – and don’t give two shits if 43 percent of Americans (or whatever the corresponding figure for Canadians – undoubtedly better – is). It’s like the article from Edge that Prof. Myers pointed out (which I found earlier thanks to ALDaily). Ought we really care if some ignorant segment of the population in rural areas doesn’t accept modern evolution? They are ignorant, they are credulous, etc., but does it really impact what we do as scientists? Scientific knowledge doesn’t need followers. It doesn’t need belief. Facts don’t care if some people don’t accept them. It seems inevitable that people will be ignorant of scientific developments. Do we really need to put out doctrinal statements as if we’re a priesthood? The whole point of scientific knowledge is that it stands on their own. If some people don’t accept it, then they are simply hopeless intellectually and the scientific ship will pass them by. Who cares?

  17. #17 AJ Milne
    May 30, 2007

    Jonathan Cucan, the vice-president of the Ottawa-based Citizens for Origins Research and Education is also a member of the RASC… Bravo to the RASC for their official response to the idiocy…

    Ah. That explains it.

    I’d been wondering if it was something like that. The statement did pose the question: why did an astronomical society even feel the need to bother?

    There’s your answer: someone gave them a reason.

    To Chuck: while I’m more than sympathetic about your concerns re ‘doctrinal statements’, and they tend to bug me a bit, too, yes, I’m afraid it very much does matter what that ‘ignorant segment’ to whom you refer thinks…

    No, not because they will change one single principle of how the natural world works by disbelieving it. You’re quite right: that natural world doesn’t care one whit what they think. And an antibiotic resistant bacterial pneumonia won’t much care if the whole of the human species now believes a giant turtle made the whole of existence twenty years ago–and if we go extinct for such a blunder, not a principle of natural selection will have changed in the least, for whatever species comes after to wonder at the ruins of our civilization.

    No, but it still matters what they think to the rest of us: even if you don’t take their (constructed) ignorance as an affront on its own to human dignity (which, many days, I do), it matters because they vote for the men who set funding levels, and they harass teachers and school board members, and they homeschool their kids, and their kids grow up to be like them.

    It matters because experience shows their ideas seep into the mainstream, as supposedly ‘neutral’ commentators in the media and popular culture give them surprising deference, and it becomes the ‘sensible, middle position’ to say well, maybe the truth lies somewhere between their myths and legnds and the principles the scientists tear slowly and painfully from their observations and experiments… And the culture dumbs down that little bit further, and ignorance spreads…

    It matters because demagogues that know the seductive power of those supersitions will use that dumbing down every way they can,
    play it as a wedge, and given the right conditions, a few superstitious zealots in church basements today are meeting with those demagogues, blacklisting the textbooks your children would learn from, tomorrow, pressing the profit-minded publishers toward further eroding the education they could receive.

    So as difficult as is the challenge of deflecting the dogmatically superstitious from such beliefs and activities (and yeah, it’s damned hard, in many cases), I’m afraid it really is one that has to be undertaken.

  18. #18 Chuck
    May 30, 2007

    AJ,

    I completely agree with the view that what the ignorant 40% of the population thinks about scientific issues matters to the culture and in terms of policy. I hope my original statement isn’t construed as an assertion that widespread ignorance is okay! It isn’t, and in the end it is destructive to the scientific project (as Bush’s many crimes against American science attest). I think that the NCSE and local organizations promoting science education are absolutely essential and I support their mission 100%. When citizens not engaged in scientific research stand up for that research, that is wonderful; and of course, scientists have a vested interest in getting involved politically to promote the interests of their profession. What I’m uncomfortable with is the practice of professional scientific organizations in one discipline, not otherwize involved in public relations or public understanding of science, putting out statements of “belief” in favor of obviously true models or theories being used in another discipline. A professional scientific society’s mission is to promote communication between researchers in a field, to publish a journal, to set up collaborations, etc. It seems that they cheapen themselves when they engage the ignorant masses. I guess it is an old-fashioned elitist view of such organizations, and maybe now is the time for these societies to engage the public. But I still think that, somehow, when professional researchers _in their capacity as researchers_ (and not as citizens) have to affirm the obvious, they are lending a nod to the cretins. My stance is sort of akin to the view of some biologists that they refuse to debate the issue of evolution with a creationist. It only seems to serve the creationist’s ends in the public square. Thanks for your response, though – the substance of which I agree with wholeheartedly.

  19. #19 AJ Milne
    May 30, 2007

    Thanks, Chuck, and re:

    But I still think that, somehow, when professional researchers _in their capacity as researchers_ (and not as citizens) have to affirm the obvious, they are lending a nod to the cretins. My stance is sort of akin to the view of some biologists that they refuse to debate the issue of evolution with a creationist. It only seems to serve the creationist’s ends in the public square.

    … that, I regrettably also have to agree with. It does create the perception that there’s something actually to talk about, just by answering. And I’m also quite sympathetic to your concerns re researchers cheapening themselves. It seems as though it’s innately difficult to answer the dogmatic without appearing to get some of that same toxin on yourself. There’s a part of my brain that always demands more rigour, and which will always think: if they were to say anything, I’d have vastly preferred a longer statement, a detailed statement. Saying just ‘we don’t think this is science’ doesn’t say nearly enough really to capture the spirit of what science and intellectual honesty really are, so you’re left looking at it thinking: unsatisfying. Pamphlet. Position statement… Who will it convince?

    But then, asking for more is asking a lot. And it really is a problem, figuring out when it’s wise to call bullshit for what it is, and when it’s wiser to ignore it. The US example makes me edgy, not to mention that fundy we now have in the PMO, and knowing there are creationists kicking about my nation, too, well, speaking up, risking sounding a little doctrinaire, initially, I’m leaning now toward thinking it’s the lesser evil. I’ve been called that, for similar statements… all you can do is have the longer discussion, then, explain the position, explain why the evidence warrants such confidence. Perhaps the RASC people will have that at their meetings, it is called for.

  20. #20 Theo Bromine
    May 30, 2007

    Do we really need to put out doctrinal statements as if we’re a priesthood?

    That depends on what the goal is. Of course, science itself stands (or falls) on its own merits. However, in a democracy science that is relevant to important matters of public policy must be communicated from scientists to lay people, since the lay people are in the majority. Wackos, alties, and creationists (but I repeat myself) are already communicating *their* version of science. Real Scientists need to communicate and champion the cause of Real Science in order to ensure that lay people can make informed decisions.

  21. #21 Chuck
    May 30, 2007

    I’m coming around to the view that in a perfect world, such statements would be unthinkable, and in a better world they would be unnecessary. In the world of contemporary North America, with its mobs of angry fundamentalists telling children what science does and does not support, perhaps they are a necessary evil for now. I think I’m basically in accord with these statements, given how much strong the fundamentalist movement currently is. But my initial queasiness towards them is not gone, and I do wish (as AJ does) they were longer or ended with: see any relevant scientific journal for mountains of evidence in favor of this proposition.

  22. #22 b_nichol
    May 30, 2007

    Sadly, Canadian idiocy abounds. I’ve been collecting and analysing samples of such for about 2 years at
    http://tinyurl.com/2fzwzd
    My all-time favourite is still Divining for Landmines With a Pendulum.

  23. #23 VancouverBrit
    May 30, 2007

    I am in a great position here. When I hear about idiocy such as the Alberta creationism themepark, I’ll say I’m British. (I haven’t heard of any such atrocity in the UK yet). But I can assert that I’m a proud Canadian when it comes to pronouncements of sanity like this one.

    Speaking of which, my fiance’s announcement that someone at his work had said that he didn’t believe in evolution was greeted with howls of laughter and derision at the pub the other night. Fair enough given that almost everyone at the pub was a scientist. But apparently the construction crew that overheard the original denial of evolution reacted in the exact same way.

    Hooray for my adopted nation!

  24. #24 bPer
    May 30, 2007

    Theo Bromine @#15 said:

    Jonathan Cucan, the vice-president of the Ottawa-based Citizens for Origins Research and Education is also a member of the RASC (Ottawa Centre)

    I am also a member of the RASC Ottawa Centre. I suspect that this fellow is indeed the reason the Executive decided to make this statement.

    A number of years ago, I had a run-in with someone who fits this guy’s description at the Ottawa Centre’s private observatory just west of Ottawa. He showed up one night without any of the paraphernalia needed for observing (charts, flashlight, scope and/or binos, etc.). This is exceedingly strange, but the rest of us just figured he was a newbie. It continued to be strange, though, when he didn’t react at all to the views we shared with him in our scopes. I’d never met a newbie who didn’t exclaim “ooh” or “wow” or at least “thanks” when looking though my scope. This guy? Nothing. After hours like this, he finally said something. I’ll have to paraphrase, but it was something like “you guys may know lots about astronomy, but it’s simply impossible that something as complicated as life evolved naturally”. My heart sank – we had a proselytizer in our midst. In the dark, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a forest at a private facility, the foul stench of creationist nonsense had intruded on our joyful little celebration of the natural wonders of the universe. I’m certain that, had we not been in the dark, I would have seen lots of rolled eyes and pained looks among my observing buddies. We gave the creep the cold shoulder from then on, and he eventually left when he realized we weren’t going to take the bait.

    Now I have to emphasize just how inconsiderate this creep was. Observing nights can be few and far between. When a good night arrives, we jump at the chance to observe. You think a JW at the door at dinnertime is annoying, imagine one of them interrupting you when you’ve driven an hour to the observatory, lugged 200 lbs of gear to the pad, rigged for 40 minutes, only to waste time with a no-life like this cretin?

    At an RASC meeting afterwards, I noticed the creep, and asked around about him. Turned out, his typical M/O was to ask some innocent-sounding question of someone as a pretext to get their e-mail address, which he’d use to start in with the preaching. Those of us who were accosted by him at the observatory related our experience to the rest of the observing group, so they could be on the lookout for him if he tries the stunt again.

    It’s been a while since I’ve been to a meeting. Sounds like he’s decided to up the ante somewhat, if he goaded the Executive into making such a statement.

    Ironically, the creep’s stunt had an unintended consequence. It left me feeling all the more isolated and under siege as an atheist. It goaded me into searching the Internet for like-minded company. Eventually, that search led me here.

  25. #25 Christian Burnham
    May 30, 2007

    Thanks everyone for examples of Canadian idiocy.

    Hrumph. I bet even their creationist museums are somehow smarter than the ones we get in the US.

  26. #26 Carolyn
    May 30, 2007

    http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/070525_bad_bigfoot.html

    MP presents bill to protect bigfoot

    Fun Canadian idiocy.

  27. #27 Theo Bromine
    May 31, 2007

    (slight topic diversion for shameless promotion of local freethinkers’ groups)

    bPer: If you are looking for like-minded company in the Ottawa area, you could check out http://secularhumanism.meetup.com/7/ (established group, but new to meetup) and http://brights.meetup.com/272/

  28. #28 bPer
    May 31, 2007

    Thanks, Theo, for the kind suggestions.

    I was already aware of the HAO, although my impression was that the group was somewhat moribund. Their website seemed perpetually out of date, but I see that it has been completely made over since the last time I checked. Maybe my impression was wrong.

    As for a ‘brights’ group, that’s not for me. I have real problems with the ‘brights’ thing. I’m afraid I couldn’t hold my tongue, and I don’t want to be a wet blanket at their social events.

    Actually, the RASC Ottawa Centre meetings are great tonic for this atheist ‘soul’. I can’t count how many times I’ve sensed the raw enthusiasm for science and learning in the meetings (which regularly exceed 100 in attendance) and giddily thought “I’m amongst my own kind here”. For someone who has always been labeled a ‘science geek’ (i.e. outcast), it is heady stuff.

  29. #29 Chuck
    May 31, 2007

    bPer:

    Our next meeting is Friday, June 1st. If you make it to the meeting please introduce yourself to the president, me.

  30. #30 Theo Bromine
    June 1, 2007

    bPer: Not to dissuade you from meeting Chuck at the RASC, but I hope I can correct some of your other impressions. (You can email me at th3obromin3@gmail.com as an alternative to continuing here.)

    re HAO – I have only been a member for a couple of years; the group isn’t exactly “moribund”, but the current executive (I’m president) is looking at some potential new directions.

    re Brights – It’s too bad that you are put off by the name. This is an informal book club that meets in pubs approximately monthly, is mostly composed of science and tech geeks, and has discussions on atheism, science, philosophy etc (that are generally loosely linked to the topical books). Personally, I don’t like the term Brights, and I haven’t run across anyone else in the Ottawa group who particularly likes it either (so if you were to come to a meeting, there would be no need for restraint) – it was picked as a Meetup name to catch searches.

  31. #31 bPer
    June 2, 2007

    I may be flogging a dead horse here, but if any of you are interested in some more background to this story, here it is.

    I took up Chuck’s invitation to attend the monthly RASC Ottawa Centre meeting last evening (who can resist a personal invitation from the Centre President?). The creationist mentioned above (by Theo and by me) was there, and as I speculated, he has upped the ante from when I last saw him. He is now openly spouting creationist BS during the meeting, and more.

    There was a presentation on the age of the universe. The presenter (whose name escapes me) showed us various methods for calculating the age of the universe, and showed that the various methods all produce values that are mutually consistent. After the talk, the creationist piped up, trying to discredit one of the methods. To his credit, he started his diatribe by stating that he was a creationist. After letting him blather on for a few minutes, the moderator shut him down by moving on to the next item on the agenda. The vibe I got from the front of the room was that this guy was now a regular in-your-face annoyance.

    During a break, I had a brief chat with the Centre President. He confirmed that the creationist’s behavior was somewhat the impetus for the Position Statement. It turns out, the cretin had volunteered to be part of the RASC’s team that participated in an event put on by the museum where our meetings are held. He took the opportunity to preach his creationist crap! Talk about a violation of trust! There apparently has been talk at the national level about the issue of anti-intellectualism, and it looks like the local Executive decided that this problem had to be nipped in the bud.

    One other thing I forgot to mention when I described my earlier run-in with the guy. Our meetings are open to the public, but he wasn’t just somebody in off the street. He paid to join the RASC ($44/yr at the time) and paid to have access to the Centre’s private observatory ($35/yr). IMO, this was (and is) a deliberate frontal assault on our organization.

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