Pharyngula

John West at the McLaurin Institute

Yesterday, I hopped into the black evo-mobile and made the long trek to Minneapolis to witness another creationist make a fool of himself. As is my custom when traveling alone, I like to crank up the car stereo until the road noise is beaten back, and the soundtrack for my trip was first, NPR’s Science Friday, and then Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light, which I’d received in the mail earlier this week (thanks, Richard!). This was a mistake. This would have prepared me for science, complexity, and beauty, but all I was going to get at the end was ideological stupidity, simple-mindedness, and a particularly ugly dishonesty.

But first, Free Beer! It was true! At least, it was free for us — our host, Rick Schauer, covered the tab, for which we owe him our thanks and appreciation. Rick also said that we could make this a regular tradition, so when creationists raise their hideous heads out there in the Twin Cities, we can gather and fortify ourselves before going off to battle. It almost makes me hope for more such intrusion. Almost.

And then the talk by John West.

One word: crap.

You can find good accounts of the event from Greg Laden and Mike Haubrich, and Kristine says it was taped and will be on YouTube soon, and August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists recorded the audio, and the McLaurin Institute is also going to host a video recording, so it’s getting far more coverage than it deserved, and I feel rather superfluous, and late. Hey, I had to drive all the way across the state (soundtrack: The Current, which was playing some hard-driving mindless techno, and BBC World Radio) after the talk, so they all had a head start.

OK, so I’ll say a little more.

Greg got in late, so he missed the opening. The title of West’s talk is Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (these guys have no originality at all): the Disturbing Legacy of America’s Eugenics Crusade. He also missed West’s opening, which was to mention me and the fact that I’d recruited skeptics to attend — the DI apparently follow this blog. He also introduced me as…as…

AMERICA’S RICHARD DAWKINS

Which would have been totally flattering if it hadn’t been said by a Discovery Institute weenie who did not intend it as a compliment. It was more like a code phrase thrown to the faithful to warn them that one of Satan’s minions was in their midst.

The talk itself was in three over-long parts.

Part I: By selectively quoting parts of Darwin’s Descent of Man, we can make it sound like he was a strong supporter of the principles of eugenics. Also, Francis Galton was his cousin. Also, eugenics was supported by Charles Davenport of COLD SPRING HARBOR LABS, Edwin Conklin of PRINCETON, and Henry Fairfield Osborn of HARVARD. These elite ivory tower institutions of pointy-headed intellectuals apparently rule the world. This was the message of the first part of the talk, that these technocrats are responsible for promulgating the odious idea of eugenics.

Part II: Eugenics is bad. I can’t disagree with this part; in fact, one of my questions/comments at the end of the talk was to point out that if he polled all the hard-core “darwinists” in the country right now, he’d have a hard time finding any who supported eugenics any more. But yes, the tale of Carrie Buck is a horrible little story. It’s been told by evolutionary biologists, too, and far more movingly than could be said by a weasely little ideologue like John West.

Part III, in which the true point of his story is revealed: The lesson for public policy is that we shouldn’t listen to the scientists — they can be just as wrong as anyone else. Scientists don’t have any special right that policymakers listen to them alone, and most amusingly, he claims that in the case of eugenics, it was the critics who turned out to be right, not the scientific elites…as if none of the “scientific elites” were critics, or as if only the “scientiific elites” were responsible for eugenics.

Finally, the microphone was relinquished to Mark Borrello, who handed West his ass in ten fierce minutes. Just as an aside, I am extremely impressed with the fact that the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota has a historian and philosopher of science on their faculty — more biology departments ought to make those kinds of strategic alliances to broaden and deepen their discipline.

Anyway, Mark pointedly punctured West’s flimsy edifice of selective presentation of facts with some perspective. This was not Darwin’s public policy, and his writings on this subject are much more complex and tentative than West let on. There’s no denying that several prominent scientists were strongly in favor of eugenics at the turn of the century, but tying that to evolutionary theory was rather weak. The heyday of eugenics was also a period known as the “eclipse of Darwin”, when support for Darwinian evolution was at a low ebb; this was the time before genetics was reconciled with evolutionary principles in the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and there were a lot of malformed ideas flourishing on the scientific scene. And finally and most tellingly, he shot down West’s bizarre suggestion that a scientific elite has ever dictated public policy in this country. Eugenics was a popular movement, not a top-down set of rules imposed by Princeton and Harvard. And he pointed out some strong contemporary examples: if this were a scientific technocracy, why is it that the scientific consensus that embryonic stem cell research needs support and that global warming has a strong human contribution so thoroughly defied by public policy?

Finally, we got to the Q&A, sort of. The guy representing the Mars Hill group (it seems to be a McLaurin Institute, Jr. — the student recruiting arm of an institute for pseudoscience and christian apologetics) got up and rambled on, plugging his group and his lunches and a meeting of the students afterwards, and telling us that because the speakers went on long (West was long-winded, Borrello was the spirit of brevity and clarity), they would only have about 15 minutes for questions…and then, as Greg noted, he walked right over to a creationist fellow-traveler, “the Hat Lady”, who said, “I’d like Dr. West to respond to all of Mr. Morillo’s (sic) Points”. It was a setup. That wasn’t a question, and West didn’t have to answer anything, all he did was get an excuse to stand up and babble for ten more minutes.

Several of us did get in hard questions afterwards, and I think the majority of the questions were critical — one of the benefits of coordinating a skeptical response beforehand. West was repetitive in his replies. Basically, all he’d do is respond with “Davenport, Conklin, Osborn, and Harvard, Princeton” to everything — when guilt by association is all you’ve got on hand, I guess all you can do is wave your examples at everyone over and over again. I got in the last word, with a comment that quoted Darwin to show his views were more complicated than West let on, and I also asked how he explained the fact that the Republican debates of late sounded exactly like the “immigration is bad” rhetoric he cited, yet this is also a field of candidates who are not exactly evolution-friendly. He did at least admit that there were other factors than just the scientific position.

As Mark again pointed out, all West was doing was scapegoating: he was ignoring all the evidence of broad support for eugenics among the public and politicians to pin the blame on Darwin (which was ludicrous) and a prominent subset of the scientific community. I don’t think West was doing history: he was practicing history in the same way creationists practice science, deciding what his conclusion was going to be and then going out to glean evidence to support it, ignoring any evidence that the situation might have been much more complex than he wants it to be. His so-called lessons for public policy are therefore the “garbage out” to his pseudo-historical “garbage in”.

As I was leaving, I did say hello to Mr West, and shook his hand. He commented that he found my blog “rather amusing”, but he wondered if I was worried that “all my anger would harm my health”. I was concern trolled…by the Discovery Institute, in real life! I had to laugh.

And then I got out of there. Two hours of an imbecile was enough.

Comments

  1. #1 rmp
    December 1, 2007

    One of these days PZ, I’ll get the opportunity to enjoy a beer with you.

  2. #2 D. Scarlatti
    December 1, 2007

    Two hours of an imbecile was enough.

    Heh.

  3. #3 Ebonmuse
    December 1, 2007

    So I’m curious, what was the response of the crowd? Was the audience packed with creationist ringers, or were there enough people there who could see through the nonsense West was spouting?

  4. #4 danley
    December 1, 2007

    Nothing is as therapeutic as visceral anger!

  5. #5 Chris Simeur
    December 1, 2007

    I’m glad that we have educated, patient (in so far as actually being able to sit through this kind of drivel w/o killing yourself or someone else) people on our side to do the necessary dirty work.
    I know, maybe some day there will actually be something new or mildly interesting to come out of these imbeciles, but it is very difficult to sit through the same old same old week after week, month after month, year after year, and actually believe that.

    Well, at least you got free beer!

  6. #6 Brownian, OM
    December 1, 2007

    So, when you were introduced as

    America’s Richard Dawkings

    did your mere presence as an atheist cause spasms of spontaneous sterilisation among the ‘less fit’ in the crowd or did the crowd recoil in horror, waving crucifixes, vials of holy water, and relics of saints to protect them from Darwin’s Debauchery?

    I’m curious as to how the religios protected themselves from the evil influence of thought.

  7. #7 PZ Myers
    December 1, 2007

    I’d guess the audience was about half-and-half creationist sympathizers/cold-hearted intellectual evilutionists. I’ve noticed in the past that creationist audiences tend to be stunned by dissent and do a very poor job in the Q&A, while skeptics tend to look for a jugular to bite, so the questions were dominated by us. Except for the damned Hat Lady.

  8. #8 Epistaxis
    December 1, 2007

    The guy representing the Mars Hill group (it seems to be a McLaurin Institute, Jr. — the student recruiting arm of an institute for pseudoscience and christian apologetics)

    Yes, though student recruiting isn’t necessarily the purpose. As an outside organization (even though it offers unaccredited “courses on campus”), the Maclaurin Institute would have to pay exorbitant fees and climb mountains of red tape to access the university classrooms where it likes to hold events to make them feel academic. As a registered student organization, Mars Hill Students can make those same reservations for relatively little, or often no, cost, though there’s still bureaucracy in the way.

    Two hours of an imbecile was enough.

    Well played. I’m assuming the famous quote came up in the talk. For those who didn’t get it, I feel like someone should let you in on the joke, because it’s a good one.

  9. #9 Tony Popple
    December 1, 2007

    I am sorry that I skipped out on the talk.

    I was working in a lab on the University campus. I originally planned to attend, but I was rather hungry and decided to run to one of my favorite Mexican restaurants instead.

    It sounds like the burrito I ate was more enlightening then the talk.

  10. #10 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    December 1, 2007

    That “Hat Lady” ruined everything for the Q&A because it took all of the time away from the audience to ask questions. I asked Greg about it later, and it was another obvious plant. A large contingent from the Minnesota Atheists were in the crowd, and we were respective while West spoke despite our complete lack of a moral foundation for behavior, but I had expected a far larger audience than was there. I was disappointed in the lack of support that the campus Christian community showed for one of its chief political discoursers.

    They should have had bouncers at the door to keep us heathens out.

    And why was the after-party limited to “students?” Not that I wanted to go, but the moderator emphasized the word “student” several times.

  11. #12 Steven Carr
    December 1, 2007

    Didn’t somebody put an article on the Internet showing that leading creationists were all for eugenics?

  12. #13 Rey Fox
    December 1, 2007

    They really are a bunch of snivelling weasels, aren’t they? Has anyone seriously discussed/endorsed eugenics in the last fifty years? As far as I can tell, “eugenics” nowadays is just a code word for “they’re gonna make clone soldiers!”

  13. #14 Dave S.
    December 1, 2007

    He commented that he found my blog “rather amusing”, but he wondered if I was worried that “all my anger would harm my health”.

    Perhaps next time you could suggest that Mr. West should have more concern for his own eternal health. After all, I hear bearing false witness is a big no-no for his people.

  14. #15 Blake Stacey
    December 1, 2007

    Somebody should add that “America’s Richard Dawkins” blurb to PZ’s Wikipedia article.

  15. #16 H. Humbert
    December 1, 2007

    Instead of just offering a counter-point at a creationist rally Q&A, somebody should really put together a 2-hour presentation entitled “The Evils of Creationism and Intelligent Design,” and recite the laundry list of moral infractions, lies, and frauds foisted upon an unsuspecting public by these liars for Jebus. I know, easier said than done. Still, I would attend. Put them on the defensive for a change.

  16. #17 Dave S.
    December 1, 2007

    Oh, and isn’t eugenics considered directed evolution, which its advocates tell us is an example of intelligent design? Indeed, isn’t any crime committed by an intelligent agent (like people) an instance of intelligent design?

  17. #18 Chris Bell
    December 1, 2007

    After “Eugenics is bad” you need to put “mmm-kay?”

  18. #19 Oldcola
    December 1, 2007

    A few days ago somebody called me the “French PZ Myers”. It was clearly intended to be an insult, but I felt honored.
    Now, if you are America’s Richard Dawkins, could I use a little bit of the aura you got for myself?

    I should go and get some beer to think about that.

  19. #20 dcb
    December 1, 2007

    @ #16 H. Humbert: Great idea! Seconded.

  20. #21 Sili
    December 1, 2007

    But I like hats – with or without ladies.

    I guess it’s sorta flattering that they read this blog — know thine enemy an’ all.

    Of course … that does make it awfully tempting to start using misdirection … to make them prepare for the wrong sort of ‘attack’ …

  21. #22 Colugo
    December 1, 2007

    Let’s air some historical dirty laundry: eugenics and scientific racism were widely accepted across the political and religious spectrum and by scientists (anthropologists, psychologists, geneticists), Darwinist and non-Darwinist alike. There were different approaches to eugenics policy – varying in zeal, the significance of racial differences, relative environmental vs genetic contributions, capitalist vs socialist public policy prescriptions – but typically involuntary sterilization and targeted immigration restriction was part of the program. Of course, creationists conflate Nazi eugenics with generic eugenics, but Nazi policies were on the most extreme end.

    Eugenics was hardly a fad of a fringe of right wing cranks that fooled the public but was resisted by the mainstream of evolutionary biologists at the time; although never universally accepted, it was embraced by the most mainstream and influential of scientists, from arch-conservatives to socialist radicals.

    How mainstream was eugenics? To name just a few luminaries:

    Karl Pearson, pioneer of biostatistics; Leonard Darwin, Darwin’s son and mentor of RA Fisher; RA Fisher, a founder of the Modern Synthesis; Cyril Darlington, geneticist; Earnest Hooton, anthropologist; Robert Yerkes, psychologist; Julian Huxley, biologist; Havelock Ellis, sexologist

    Consult any legitimate historical review of the eugenics movement for a flavor its popularity (though not consensus of course) within the scientific community. James Watson would have been mainstream a little over half a century ago and he is still not entirely alone.

    Some opponents of eugenics and scientific racism: Franz Boas, Peter Kropotkin; Alfred Russell Wallace.

    To be sure, it was a very different era, one in which racist sentiments were casually uttered by important men and women of the left like Sinclair and London (and by rightists of course) and social engineering, hygiene, and eugenics all seemed perfectly complementary. (See Roger Griffin’s Modernism and Fascism.) The Darwinism that many were exposed to in that era was actually (sometimes secondhand) Haeckelian biology. A well-read person of that era might have a worldview founded on a garbled mix of Nietzsche, Haeckel, and Marx. HG Wells and other scientifically minded Fabians endorsed eugenic sterilization.

    Defeating eugenics and scientific racism was a hard won struggle and deemphasizing the influence of these movements in mainstream science diminishes the accomplishment of figures like Boas. Creationists commit the genetic fallacy when they insist that modern evolutionary biology is tainted by the eugenics of earlier evolutionary biologists (just as atheists would be if they argued that contemporary Christian
    clergy are tainted by the eugenicist churchmen of that era.) Anti-sociobiologists made the same fallacy when they denounced EO Wilson’s famous book by bringing up eugenics and the gas chambers. (There are interesting parallels between the book Not In Our Genes and Ben Stein’s recent rant about Darwinism as justification for Victorian imperialism.)

    Julian Huxley: ‘The Dysgenic Character of our Present Social System’ (1937), on the desirability of economic equality:
    “permitting of more definite knowledge of the genetic constitution of different classes and types, will at once give us more certainty in any eugenic selection, negative or positive, upon which we may embark…”

    Huxley also coined the term transhumanism, in his paper by that name: (1957):

    “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself –not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but trans­cending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.”

  22. #23 Justin Moretti
    December 1, 2007

    Humbert, I’ll second your idea, but it needs to be done by an evolutionist who is also a priest or theologian.

  23. #24 Colugo
    December 1, 2007

    Rey Fox: “Has anyone seriously discussed/endorsed eugenics in the last fifty years?”

    Besides obvious cranks like James Watson and Richard Lynn? In the last year or so, Richard Dawkins and Shalini Sehkar have said that it’s time to get past the Hitler stigma surrounding eugenics, but they were really talking about transhumanism. (Actually, it was quite inept for them to mention either Hitler or eugenics.)

    FAQ on transhumanism and eugenics (My summary: “Enhanced humanity, yes; racist-classist coercive policies, no.)
    http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/faq21/66/

    Transhumanists may be a little silly, but they are not insignificant: Minsky, Kurzweil, de Grey, Bostrom …

  24. #25 Sven DiMilo
    December 1, 2007

    America’s Richard Dawkins? With all due respect, you’d sort of have to publish several brilliantly written, accessible but scientifically provocative books on evolutionary biology to earn that title. But you know that.

  25. #26 Ed Darrell
    December 1, 2007

    Two hours of an imbecile was enough.

    Paraphrasing Justice Holmes — nice touch.

    The case was from Virginia, recall. Virginia, even today, is not known to be a bastion of enlightened science, liberal science, or non-religious policy. In fact, almost all of the states that had eugenics laws like Virginia’s were states in the Bible Belt or those dominated by religious, rural majorities.

    They supported eugenics for religious reasons, you see.

    Did West mention that?

  26. #27 Ichthyic
    December 1, 2007

    Creationists commit the genetic fallacy when they insist that modern evolutionary biology is tainted by the eugenics of earlier evolutionary biologists (just as atheists would be if they argued that contemporary Christian
    clergy are tainted by the eugenicist churchmen of that era.)

    absolutely correct, and I would like to stress here (since we seem to have some new lurkers about), that eugenics has/had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the actual theory of evolution, and are entirely irrelevant in determining the efficacy of the theory itself.

    OTOH, we cannot say the same of the ideologies of the Christian church, considering what their concepts are based on.

    the eugenics argument I believe is one of many that religious apologists of a looney bent trot out that would be better applied to themselves.

    IOW, just more projection on the part of the likes of Kennedy (RIP) et. al.

  27. #28 John Pieret
    December 1, 2007

    It was more like a code phrase thrown to the faithful to warn them that one of Satan’s minions was in their midst.

    Hah! Now you know how lawyers feel!

    The heyday of eugenics was also a period known as the “eclipse of Darwin”, when support for Darwinian evolution was at a low ebb …

    Don’t forget that the Spartans were practicing eugenics, based on notions of animal and plant breeding, long before Darwin was born (and were admired by Hitler for it), as well.

  28. #29 FtK
    December 1, 2007

    “I’ve noticed in the past that creationist audiences tend to be stunned by dissent and do a very poor job in the Q&A.”

    Actually, that’s because we’ve been taught to be polite and respectful (and tolerant of other views). I make it a point NOT to make a scene when I attend Darwinist lectures. I’ve found that most of the time, the Darwinists who raise a stink at these controversial lectures come out looking like arrogant jerks. I’ve also seen some “creationists” do the same thing a few times, and although they made good points, they look like trouble makers and it doesn’t help their argument.

    I only lost my temper once at a lecture, but I didn’t direct my frustration at the lecturer and I got out before I made the mistake of confronting him in the Q&A.

    From what I’ve observed, most people who attend these type of controversial lectures already have their minds made up about the issues. It’s pretty pointless to make a scene because it’s not going to benefit anyone except the commenter who feels the need to let off some steam. Though perhaps that is the only thing keeping them from having a massive coronary…venting rather than sucking it up.

    I just wait until I get home, and then I vent on-line…..*wink*. Yeah, yeah, I know I seem to lose some of that respectful attitude at that point, but I try my best to be civil (usually).

    I’d have to say I’m with West in worrying that PZ may be at a health risk due to all that anger he displays. Although, perhaps venting may be a health benefit for him rather than keeping his highly volatile emotions all bottled up. Guess time will tell…

    Oh, and I’m certainly not trying to discourage any of you from attending every single “creationist” lecture you can find time to attend. Honestly, I think it is of great benefit to our cause. Thanks!

  29. #30 TomS
    December 1, 2007

    One more thing about creationism and eugenics.

    The creationists frequently insist on telling us that they accept evolution within a “kind”. Such as within “mankind”.

    So, if acceptance of evolution leads to eugenics, it is only evolution within “mankind” that has such a consequence. If the creationists were being consistent, how would they distance themselves from eugenics?

    There is nothing about the things like the natural origins of the bacterial flagellum or of the vertebrate eye – the sorts of things that the creationists tell us that they object to – that has any remotely imaginable connection with eugenics.

    If the creationists were being consistent when they claim that acceptance of evolution – evolution within a kind – leads to eugenics … If the creationists were being consistent, then how would they distance themselves from eugenics?

    If the creationists were being consistent …

  30. #31 gbusch
    December 1, 2007

    Religion can equally be implicated in the eugenics movement.

    http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/eugenics/
    Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement

    Under Eugenics Popularization
    “In church on Sunday, they might listen to a sermon selected for an award by the American Eugenics society – learning that human improvement required marriages of society’s “best” with the “best”. ”

  31. #32 Will
    December 1, 2007

    By the end of West’s lecture, I didn’t know what he was arguing. I came to the conclusion that the lecture was a history lesson and a “how to” in demonizing science. The unsaid goal at the lecture was to demonize evolution by means of natural selection in order to make its evil-ness seem an argument towards it being false. Well, I got news for you, West, the philosophical applications of scientific facts do not make the scientific facts false (I am saying here that eugenics is an (horrid) application of misunderstood Darwinism).

    Thank you (for the entertainment), come again (when you have a real argument).

  32. #33 Will
    December 1, 2007

    P.S.

    @ Mike Haubrich: “They should have had bouncers at the door to keep us heathens out.”

    There were actually two female officers that showed up around 7:10 and waited outside the doors. I asked them why they were there and they said something about someone calling because there might be protesters. I was out there with two people I didn’t know and said, “Well, thanks (sarcasm). There are atheists and Christians here, but nothing more than our first amendment is happening.” The people agreed with me and I later found out they were fundies.

    Either they felt like they were being persecuted and this was their chance to use their first amendment, or they were reasonable fundies (oxymoron?).

  33. #34 Evan Henke
    December 1, 2007

    I happened to be sitting right in front of Hat Lady…when Dr. West showed a short clip of some Nazi images and ideals about eugenics, she whispered to her husband, “This is going to give me nightmares!”

    I found one part of the talk particularly interesting, when Dr. West attempted to highlight how eugenics “dehumanizes” us, he displayed a few quotes from scientists such as Charles Davenport with the purpose of convincing the audience that Darwinists are out to strip any unique privileges from the human race. He cites Davenport:

    “Man is an…animal. The laws of improvement that act on corn and race horses apply to man.”

    West: “Dehumanizing, isn’t it?”

    Dr. West presents this quote quickly and progresses to the next slide, as if to imply the meaning of the quote is obvious, when in fact he misinterprets the meaning of the quote (and hopes his audience does the same) in order to support his thesis. This quote, and science in general has nothing to say about the value of a human life compared to that of another animal, or the purposes of life at all. Those questions are best answered by religion (ack!) and philosophy. It does not at all equate man to other animals in moral capacity or the possession of a soul. Instead, what we have here is a statement explaining the presence of forces that exist in the universe that we are able to express through the language of math and reason, and entities that exist in the universe are affected by such forces. Gravity, Strong Nuclear force, Weak Nuclear force, Electromagnetic force…these all act on objects composed of atoms as surely as natural selection acts on life forms (with genetic inheritance and variation in the fitness of individuals) under the circumstance of limited resources and exponential population growth in a confined space. Dr. West, although I did not ask him personally about his belief in microevolution, would probably not dispute this claim. Even Behe will accept many claims of microevolution. Humans are life and are thus subject to natural selection. Would Dr. West feel so dehumanized by a statement such as:

    “Man is made of matter. The laws of gravity that apply to anything made of matter, whether it be a rat, a gram-positive microbe, Hell, even a MacBook with a collection of terribly reasoned slide shows arguing against the theory of evolution by virtue of it’s meaning and not scientific validity, apply to man.”

    Unfortunately, Dr. West’s presentation contained many such logical fallacies.

  34. #35 PZ Myers
    December 1, 2007

    Colugo: you sound exactly like John West. No one denies that many credible biologists at the turn of the century and into the twenties were eugenicists, or that there were substantial scientists supporting this political position. No one claims that the eugenicists were “fringe scientists” at the time (although they are now). So quit pounding on straw men.

    FtK: Your innuendo is showing. Who says we “raised a stink” or were impolite or disrespectful? We raised our hands. We waited our turns. We asked civil questions. That’s what we do — we politely point out the egregious flaws in creationist arguments. I know that to you that is unbearably rude, and it’s probably why creationists tend not to say much in the Q&A at these things — they are raised not to question. That’s the problem, actually.

  35. #36 PZ Myers
    December 1, 2007

    Good point, Evan. That was another strain running through the talk: it’s dehumanizing to regard humans as animals. He reinforced it with the silly animal sounds in the audio overlays, too.

  36. #37 Scott Hatfield, OM
    December 1, 2007

    AMERICA’S RICHARD DAWKINS

    And just when I thought you were Minnesota’s answer to Beau Bridges. (sigh) It beats being known as the ‘evolutionist teacher’!

  37. #38 PZ Myers
    December 1, 2007

    They called the cops on us? How silly. My posts calling for skeptics to show up, listen, and ask hard questions sure put the fear into the sheep, didn’t they?

  38. #39 Colugo
    December 1, 2007

    gbusch: “Religion can equally be implicated in the eugenics movement.”

    While I am well aware of much of the clergy’s endorsement of eugenics (with the notable exception of the Catholic Church), I disagree with that. The legitimacy and authority of eugenics was due to its scientific stamp of approval, originally from early evolutionary scientists like Galton and Haeckel and later by many post-Mendelian geneticists. Prior to eugenics, racist and classist theists had to refer to the descendants of Ham, some kind of creationist polygenecism, and/or Biblical slavery – all increasingly shaky reasoning in an age in which literalist faith was waning. But now they were bolstered by Science with a capital S. That mainstream scientific endorsement gave eugenics special power and respectability in the context of early modern industrial society and distinguishes it from premodern “eugenic” infanticide and traditional theistic rationales for race and class hierarchies. In fact, at the time it was sometimes difficult to tell where the science of genetics ended and the advocacy of eugenics began. It was a very rickety and misinformed science, in hindsight, but nevertheless highly effective in justifying particular social agendas and public policy. After WWII, there was a rapid cleansing of references to “eugenics” from textbooks and journals, and suddenly few biologists wanted to be associated with it.

    The most mature and sophisticated approach is to acknowledge the whole history, including its errors and ugliness. In narrative terms, it makes the story both more tragic and more heroic. (“Many fell into error, some resisted, after a long struggle now we have an improved science…”) Anthropologists do that with both their biological anthropologist and ethnologist predecessors. Patriotic historians of the United States recognize both the good and the bad legacies of the American experience.

    If creationists want to put on blinders and distort the record, that’s their problem. Let’s be candid about the whole story, not just defensively react against creationist attacks on scientific ancestors.

  39. #40 Colugo
    December 1, 2007

    PZ Myers: “No one denies that many credible biologists at the turn of the century and into the twenties were eugenicists, or that there were substantial scientists supporting this political position.”

    That’s good.

    The primary defense against creationist attacks on evolutionary biology should be the fact that they are committing the genetic fallacy, not that there was a significant set of mainstream scientists at the time who opposed eugenics. The latter is also relevant, to be sure.

    There is a contrast between the sometimes excessively ancestor-flagellating approach of many anthropologists concerning their discipline’s history and what appears to be the defensiveness among biologists about creationist invocations of eugenics. Maybe this is because there is no major right wing theistic movement denouncing classical anthropology as the handmaiden of colonialism.

  40. #41 Bad
    December 1, 2007

    “Somebody should add that “America’s Richard Dawkins” blurb to PZ’s Wikipedia article.”

    I liked “America’s Richard Dawkings” even better, actually.

  41. #42 PZ Myers
    December 1, 2007

    Mark Borrello did not try to sweep scientific involvement under the rug. He plainly explained that many scientists were collaborators in this early on; does anyone claim otherwise? But blaming it on Darwin or on these scientists is a mistake. Eugenics was a social movement, and the scientists of the day were as much followers as instigators.

  42. #43 Colugo
    December 1, 2007

    PZ Myers: “But blaming it on Darwin or on these scientists is a mistake.”

    It is wrong to blame it on Darwin – because Darwin was not a eugenicist. It is also indefensibly wrong to blame eugenics on Darwinism, the Modern Synthesis, evolutionary biology, or biology in general. But blaming eugenics on eugenicist scientists? I think that’s fair. Blame Haeckel, as well as Galton’s disciples from Karl Pearson to Alexis Carrel? Hell yes. These eugenicist scientists were not naifs caught up in the eugenicist whirlwind churned up by politicos and the scientifically ignorant masses. They shaped the discourse, provided the theoretical grounding, and offered copious policy advice. Of course, many others share in the blame too: politicians, activists, intellectuals, even some artists. And it doesn’t mean that everything that eugenicist scientists did was bad or tainted either. Where would we be without Pearson, or even Haeckel (an irrevocably disgraced ancestor, but an important ancestor nonetheless)?

  43. #44 Lago
    December 1, 2007

    People that live now must remember, that before WW2, most people were racist, and that was the norm. The “liberal” of the time would be more of someone that respected the rights of those whom he believed, though inferior, had just as much right to live as those who have been born superior. Why not, as their needs were more simple. Comfy shoes, and a warm place to go to the bathroom…well, you get my drift…

    It was my mother that explained to me how this all changed. As a little girl she grew-up watching the horrors of WW2 on the big screen that were shown in News reels every Saturday during the war. These images of what man could do to man hit home and spread through-out the Nation. People started to feel ashamed of their racist beliefs and started to see our nation, not as or own little neighborhood, but as all of our homes and neighborhoods. There were Jewish areas, and Italian areas, Irish and Asain. Want some good chinese food? Let’s order out, or maybe we will even go out to “China Town.” Ooh Italian! Don’t you feel like Italian tonight? I love pizza and spaghetti! And besides, the Italians are always such a happy people…

    We started to see ourselves as Islands in a whole where we embraced differences as part of what made us the winners of the war. We were not those murders, and we attempted to bury our past racist beliefs under these new ideologies of separate, but equal members of a whole. We even entertained the idea of an American stew. Separate meat potatoes and carrots, put placed together making the whole more that the sum of the parts…

    It was this new ideal that my parents gave to me as a small child, and even though their, “Colored people are people too, and such good dancers,” might seem extremely racist to us now, the fact is, they were the left-wing radical liberals of their time, and without this bridge from the old, we would be still stuck in that past that seems so surprising to the naive audiences these creationists prey upon..

  44. #45 jen n
    December 1, 2007

    Hope it isn’t too off topic to say, as a History of Science student, I was very grateful to have Mark Borrello as a professor. He’s one of the good ones, and I hope he sticks around the U for a long time.

  45. #46 Sastra, OM
    December 1, 2007

    Colugo (#22) quoting Julian Huxley in 1937:

    “… permitting of more definite knowledge of the genetic constitution of different classes and types, will at once give us more certainty in any eugenic selection, negative or positive, upon which we may embark…”

    That’s an interesting quote. Contrary to earlier expectations, when the genes of different human races, classes, and types were actually studied, they didn’t find any important differences. Which seems to suggest that — from a scientific standpoint — the theory behind eugenics was falsified by the research. It took away “certainty” from the idea of eugenic selection, period.

    I have no idea what would similarly falsify a view that claimed that God created some races to rule over others. Whether this belief rises or falls is going to be based on something other than God explaining that no, He’s been misunderstood.

    Is this a significant point when looking at attempts at a evolution-eugenics connection?

  46. #47 Damian
    December 1, 2007

    From what I have read about eugenics (which is not a substantial amount, I admit), almost all non-catholic western nations had some form of legislation in place concerning the use of eugenics. Now, biologists are not also ethicists, obviously, so it is fairly clear that this was a widely accepted endeavor.

    To say that it is a logical consequence of a particular scientific theory might fit in with the agenda of certain groups, but it is an attempt to rewrite history, none the less. And, a disgraceful attempt at that.

    I have to say that I really despair at the lengths that people are prepared to go to in an attempt to smear something that they don’t like. That it is happening in the United States in the year 2007, is bizarre to say the least.

  47. #48 Crudely Wrott
    December 1, 2007

    Not only the idea of eugenics but the practice thereof predates turn-of-the (20th)-century science as well as Darwin and the Spartans. To see evidence of this please refer to the Old Testament. There you will find copious examples of how to deal with those who, by there failure to meet current standards of acceptability, do not deserve to reproduce. The answer in Genesis as well as subsequent books is clear: Kill Them All. QED.

  48. #49 dave
    December 1, 2007

    PZ, would you mind posting, or linking to a good source, the arguments you put forward, including the quotations from Darwin where he showed his attitude to the ideas that Galton later called eugenics? There are some points in Descent of Man, but it would be interesting to have your analysis of the text. TalkOrigins Archive has an outline treatment, but a more detailed resource would be really useful.

  49. #50 Peter McGrath
    December 1, 2007

    America’s Richard Dawkins? That makes you ‘ard. Well ‘ard.

  50. #51 Erp
    December 1, 2007

    As pointed out the eugenics movement had a lot of support at the time. Note there were variations within it. Some were in favor of encouraging ‘the best’ to reproduce but were totally against using legal power to prevent ‘the worst’ from reproducing. Others had no trouble with using legal power to prevent ‘the worst’ from reproducing.

    As for using Galton’s (or Leonard Darwin’s) kinship to Charles Darwin to blacken the last as an eugenicist. Charles Darwin was also the great uncle (or first cousin twice removed depending on whether one goes by marriage or only by blood) to one of the leading opponents of eugenics laws in Britain, the MP Josiah Wedgwood. Admittedly he had been trained as an engineer not as a scientist. In neither case does the relationship matter except to show that even people in the same family could disagree.

    If you have access, people might find the following interesting.
    The Rhetoric of Eugenics: Expert Authority and the Mental Deficiency Bill
    Edward J. Larson
    The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 24, No. 1. (Mar., 1991), pp. 45-60.
    Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0007-0874%28199103%2924%3A1%3C45%3ATROEEA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-D

  51. #52 Bengt
    December 1, 2007

    I attended the presentation by John West yesterday and here are some of my comments on that.

    First I must say that the presentation made by West was visually impressive using techniques like “Ken Burns style” panning and zooming of photos etc. This was done using, I believe, the Apple Keynote software. The photos shown were very emotionally loaded. He also had music in the background to influence the mood he wanted to portray, like sad music for the Buck story of forced sterilization and more aggressive music giving the sense of doom when the scientists he mentioned were quoted. He also had voice recordings by actors reading quotes from scientists and other prominent members of the society of that era. The actors reading the quotes used arrogant sounding voices and also specifically used intonation to make the quotes sound even more damning. Everything was accompanied by sound effects. Essentially what West was trying to do was to influence the crowds mood by using presentation tricks.

    This was obviously needed because the his presentation was not convincing for anyone with the ability of the least amount of critical thinking. It was clear that what he was aiming at was to paint Darwin and Darwinism in bad light by essentially showing that Darwinism was “guilty by association” to the eugenics movement. West did pick quotes from prominent scientist of that time that merely expressed the opinion that was the most common opinion in the general public at the time, which Mark Borrello pointed out when he had a chance to comment at the end. Wests talk was the typical cherry picking of quotes and information that would support Wests and the Discovery Institutes agenda.

    I was quite surprised that the organizers actually had planned time for commentary by Mark Borrello at the end of West’s presentation. What Borrello did was to review the presentation and provide critique. This was excellently done, but in a way that was a bit too strict academic for the crowd. Mark did provide a historically correct non-biased realism check to the slanted presentation by West. Borrello essentially invalidated all the points the West was presenting, except for that Eugenics was bad and used in a cruel and inhumane way, which of course everyone agrees with scientist or not.

    After this it was time for questions and here the organizer/moderator did a very poor job. The moderator said that there were very little time for questions. The first question was by the “Hat Lady???” asking West to respond to the critique given by Borrello. I think this was justified, but the moderator just let West babble on for almost 10 minutes without specifically addressing Borrello’s critique. The moderator should have prevented West from rambling on and asked him to just address the critique and after that he should have let Borrello talk again to comment on whether West had been able to answer the critique. Instead, he stopped that discussion for announcements for the Christian organizations and then it was qiven the opportunity for the audience to ask questions. Most questions were critical of Wests presentation. When being criticized West often raised his voice and since he had the use of the microphone and PA system he would drown out the other person so we could not hear what was commented.

    There was one specific question, which was essentially the only comments from the audience that supported West’s opinion. One person describing himself as a Layer added to the discussion of scientists being wrong by saying that in his experience scientists were often wrong and thus specifically contradicting statements by Borrello. This persons comment came out very strangely to me as Borrello had said something in the lines of that through history there were several times that scientists had been wrong but that the scientific community always correct itself, and despite scientists on occasion being wrong they are still more likely to be correct because they are specialists and have the knowledge in their field. Considering that, I take it that what Borrello stated was that the scientists would certainly be more likely to be correct on opinions in his field of study than any politician or other random person being religious or not. The “Layers” comment seemed to contradict this, which seem completely unreasonable.

    I guess that unfortunately most people hear what they want to hear and reason is not getting a foothold. This was evident in West’s final comment that was the he thought this was fun and kind of letting on that he thought he had prevailed and won the discussion.

    I had to leave at this point and missed out on any post presentation discussion. After the presentation West were going to meet and continue to indoctrinate some innocent/ignorant Christian students at another location.

  52. #53 Pierce R. Butler
    December 1, 2007

    Damian: I have to say that I really despair at the lengths that people are prepared to go to in an attempt to smear something that they don’t like. That it is happening in the United States in the year 2007, is bizarre to say the least.

    Say what? Pay attention, Damian: smears are the primary mode of sociopolitical discourse in the United States in the year 2007, just as they’ve been for this entire century.

  53. #54 Barn Owl
    December 1, 2007

    Ugh, I’m afraid I have very little stomach for creationist rhetoric and deliberate misrepresentation of science and history. Attending a talk like West’s would be one of the very last things I’d want to do on a Friday evening, after a long day teaching, working in the lab, and attending meetings. Even free beer has failed as an incentive, ever since my postdoc days. I have a neuroscientist friend here (also an innovator in K-12 science education) who will actually engage in local debates with Discovery Institute types publically, but his wife and I just roll our eyes and wonder how he has the tolerance for it. Glad someone does, but….yuk, eeewwww.

  54. #55 Ichthyic
    December 1, 2007

    FtK: Your innuendo is showing. Who says we “raised a stink” or were impolite or disrespectful? We raised our hands. We waited our turns. We asked civil questions. That’s what we do — we politely point out the egregious flaws in creationist arguments.

    now you KNOW that FTK was simply projecting, PZ. Being ignorant and arrogant is her schtick.

    anyone who has ever visited her blog, or seen her post anywhere more than once can get a quick view of that.

    like all creationists, she projects her own insecurities, ignorance, and arrogance onto those she feels are attacking her position.

    She is mentally incapable of self-analysis in these matters.

  55. #56 Ichthyic
    December 1, 2007

    PZ, would you mind posting, or linking to a good source, the arguments you put forward, including the quotations from Darwin where he showed his attitude to the ideas that Galton later called eugenics? There are some points in Descent of Man, but it would be interesting to have your analysis of the text. TalkOrigins Archive has an outline treatment, but a more detailed resource would be really useful.

    dave – the entire works of darwin are available freely online.

    let’s see….

    ah here ya go:

    http://darwin-online.org.uk/

    you can find just about everything he ever wrote there, and check it out for yourself.

  56. #57 Ichthyic
    December 1, 2007

    This was obviously needed because the his presentation was not convincing for anyone with the ability of the least amount of critical thinking.

    hint:

    people who have the slightest ability to think critically are not West’s, nor the Disinformation Institute’s, target audience.

    unfortunately, people with the ability to think critically in this country appear to be in the minority, so their message, idiotic as it is, still manages to gain traction with the “Idiocracy” crowd.

    so, bottom line, it sounds like West has a rather effective presentation for the target audience.

    *sigh*

    without direct point-by-point refutations immediately available, likely his presentation will convince many people, sadly.

  57. #58 sachatur
    December 1, 2007

    Blaming Darwin for Eugenics is like blaming Jesus Christ for paedophilia in the Catholic Church.

  58. #59 Pierce R. Butler
    December 1, 2007

    Doesn’t that depend on how you interpret “suffer the little children to come unto me”…

  59. #60 Ichthyic
    December 1, 2007

    LOL

  60. #61 Chris
    December 1, 2007

    Hey you didn’t happen to take I-35 to get to the presentation did you?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5S38LpMgu0

  61. #62 jeh
    December 1, 2007

    Here’s an antidote to the horrible talk: a symposium on the evolution of endomembrane systems at the ASCB annual meeting in Washington DC. [I don’t expect to see Mikey B in attendance.]

    Evolution of Eukaryotic Endomembrane Systems
    Co-Chairs: John A. Fuerst, University of Queensland, and Trevor Lithgow, University of Melbourne

    1. Endomembrane Systems and Cell Division in Planctomycete Bacteria.
    2. Identification of a Key Component of the Eukaryotic Endomembrane System in Compartmentalized Bacteria.
    3. Phylogenetic Analyses of Membrane-Trafficking Protein Families Suggest a Sophisticated Endomembrane System in the Last Common Eukaryotic Ancestor.
    4. An Elaborate Classification of SNARE Proteins Sheds Light on the Conservation of the Eukaryotic Endomembrane System.
    5. Origin of Vesicle Coat Systems.
    6. Organization of the Early Secretory Pathway in the Malaria Parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
    7. Evolution of Membrane Transport Systems: Insights from Parasitic Protists.
    8. Evolution of Molecular Machines to Drive Protein Import into Mitochondria.

  62. #63 foxfire
    December 1, 2007

    FtK wrote

    Oh, and I’m certainly not trying to discourage any of you from attending every single “creationist” lecture you can find time to attend. Honestly, I think it is of great benefit to our cause

    In what way do you think it benefits your cause? I checked out your blog and your take on this meeting is distinctly different than described here. I await the video: YouTube displays the event and I get to decide (as opposed to entities that report what they want me to hear and talk-head it to death).

    In fact, I’m not really clear what you think your “cause” is anyway, since the unholy mating of ID with C has resulted in an absurd hodgepodge offspring that scientific Evolutionary theory might predict would not survive long enough to replicate. Is the earth 6K years old and should we stone children to death for being disobedient or does evolution occur over millions of years and only the more irreducibly complex forms require an Intelligent Designer (the identity of the IDer being up for grabs)?

    Whenever you people get your shit together, please feel to think you might actually get a moment of serious contemplation from me.

  63. #64 Skeptic8
    December 1, 2007

    Look at the ideas of the 1920s. There simply weren’t the tools available then. Theo-philosophers could discuss the “Perfectibility of mankind” right out in public. The general mindset really was “4004 BC” and the “ancient Egyptians” were a marvellous golden age. A newspaper article measuring a distance in light-years would have been met with blank incomprehension by most. Populations not reflecting the appropriate “ancient lineage” as percieved by Western history were perceived as “degenerate”. There were no plate tectonics or radiometric rulers available.
    We still have “young earth” creationists as a fading species to represent the era.

  64. #65 Rachel I.
    December 1, 2007

    I dunno… The comment about concern for your health may have been a death threat, you know. The “pro-life” crowd has been known to murder doctors who perform abortions, why shouldn’t the creationists be encouraging their young fanatics to go suicide-bomb an Evilutionist or two? Keep backup data on comments like that in case legal action against ’em becomes an option. đŸ˜‰

  65. #66 Scott
    December 1, 2007

    The conflict between various forms of explicit creationism and ID-wanna-be’s reminds me of a basic point that is both optimistic and pessimistic. That is that in the long run, even if less than half this country has its head screwed on right when asked a poll, science will continue to make progress (even in this country; others might get ahead of us of course). The reason is that science is *progressive*, it has a research program, and builds upon itself. It’s replicatable, self-correcting, and even when progress is slow, it’s steady. Non-sciences, including ID and Creationism, are not; they are ad hoc, constantly begging for exceptions to their principles of the moment, can make no coherent testable predictions, and hence cannot progress. The *most* they can do is slow science down. But at the end of the day, anything they publish blows away in the wind, while every new article in a scientific journal adds to our knowledge.

    The optimism is obvious; the source of pessimism in this is that despite all this, they don’t give up. They don’t even seem to recognize or care that the most they can do is slow down real progress in human knowledge, and are incapable of adding anything to it.

  66. #67 Voting Present
    December 1, 2007

    Ear plugs.

    Beats back the road noise, and you arrive much more rested. (Turn up the radio and you can hear it even better through the ear plugs. Better signal-to-noise ratio.)

    Works against creationists, too.
    .

  67. #68 cureholder
    December 1, 2007

    To make the quote borrowed from the Honorable Mr. Justice Holmes as true to the source as possible, let’s make it:

    Two hours of an imbecile were enough.

  68. #69 Pyre
    December 1, 2007

    Skeptic8: “Look at the ideas of the 1920s. … A newspaper article measuring a distance in light-years would have been met with blank incomprehension by most.”

    Parsecs were used as a measure of time in the movie Star Wars (1976): Han Solo boasted that his ship, the Millennium Falcon, made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs. No great outbursts from the audiences followed this statement.

  69. #70 Kristine
    December 1, 2007

    And why was the after-party limited to “students?” Not that I wanted to go, but the moderator emphasized the word “student” several times.

    So that they could proseltyze to the students without any of us around to contradict the mountain of garbage that would be shoveled onto them.

    FTK – you should have seen the look on John West’s face when I politely asked him about Philip Johnson and Jonathan Wells being HIV denialists. That wasn’t just politeness. He was sandbagged. He recovered quickly, though. Check out my latest post and ask yourself if he was being truthful.

    We’re still working on the video, folks – Rev. Barky’s been toiling all day. The sound isn’t great, and we’ve had some compatibility issues, but it will be posted when he’s resolved things.

  70. #71 cureholder
    December 1, 2007

    Star Wars came out in 1977, not 1976.

    I think the statement that the 1920s measurement of distance in light years would have been met with “blank incomprehension” was intended to mean that the audience would not have understood it, not that the statement itself was wrong (as it obviously is not) and was not recognized as wrong by the audience, as your parallel to the Star Wars error implies.

    And the “twelve parsecs” line from Han Solo has been ridiculed by scientists, Star Wars fans, and science fiction fans in general since the movie came out in 1977. I am not a member of any of those three groups, but even I am aware of that fact.

  71. #72 jeh
    December 2, 2007

    “and Solo boasted that his ship, the Millennium Falcon, made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.”

    “And the “twelve parsecs” line from Han Solo has been ridiculed by scientists, Star Wars fans, and science fiction fans in general..”

    But maybe twelve parsecs was the reduced distance through folded space ; )

  72. #73 waldteufel
    December 2, 2007

    FTK, did you ever ask a question when you were in school?
    Did you ever take a science course past junior high school?
    If so, did you pass that (those) courses?
    Do you have any concept whatever of the scientific method, and how it has advanced humanity vastly beyond the ignorant Bronze Age men who spun yarns about talking snakes?
    Would you rather take medication for an illness that was developed by scientists using the scientific method, or one that was the result of clergy more closely examining biblical text?
    My guess is “no” to all of the above, except the last item.

  73. #74 Pieter B
    December 2, 2007

    The I-35 video that Chris linked illustrates how difficult it is to parody the fundies. Paging Mr. Poe . . .

    The “twelve parsecs” line got some loud hoots at the showing I attended thirty years ago.

  74. #75 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    My guess is “no” to all of the above, except the last item.

    it doesn’t matter; you could never get an honest answer out of her anyway. Many have tried before you.

    like most religious fanatics, she is incapable of being honest with others or herself.

    It’s quite pathetic.

    really.

  75. #76 waldteufel
    December 2, 2007

    Of course, Ichthyic, you are correct on this point. The questions were really rhetorical.

  76. #77 fardels bear
    December 2, 2007

    Slight correction to PZ’s post. U of M-TC has not one, but TWO historians of science on their faculty:

    http://www.cbs.umn.edu/eeb/faculty/JonesSusan/

  77. #78 fardels bear
    December 2, 2007

    Sorry, my previous post should be TWO historians of science on their EEB faculty. There are more in other sciences and of course UM had the first center for philosophy of science in the US, founded in the 1950s.

  78. #79 Tom Ames
    December 2, 2007

    Tony Popple:

    It sounds like the burrito I ate was more enlightening then the talk.

    It sounds like the burrito you excreted later was likely more enlightening than the talk.

  79. #80 Rich
    December 2, 2007
  80. #81 Monado
    December 2, 2007

    Believe me, a lot of silent “Huh!?”s and rolled eyes occurred when Han Solo misused “parsecs” in Star Wars. But we were to polite to raise a stink or make a fuss.

  81. #82 Monado
    December 2, 2007

    Sorry, “TOO polite.”

  82. #83 AllanW
    December 2, 2007

    Scott #65

    I’m truly sorry to piss on your Sunday but your optimism/pessimism analysis doesn’t go far enough. From this side of the pond it looks like you are losing the battle. Scan a few of the *shakes head in disbelief* articles posted on this forum. From my p.o.v. the delusional forces are gaining ground (money, political power, share-of-voice etc) and this is reflected in the trends that indicate declining levels of literacy, scientific debate and understanding etc.

    Until the States begins to elect intelligent people into real power (and we have our share of third-rate minds running things over here as well btw) then conditions will continue to worsen.

  83. #84 allonym
    December 2, 2007

    #73 – humourous unintentional ambiguity:

    Would you rather take medication for an illness that was developed by scientists using the scientific method, or one that was the result of clergy more closely examining biblical text?

    Which I originally read as:

    Would you rather take medication for:
    1. an illness that was developed by scientists using the scientific method, or
    2. [an illness] that was the result of clergy more closely examining biblical text?

    My answer to this form of the question would be, of course, #1, as the cure rate for #2 is not at all encouraging :p

  84. #85 Who Cares
    December 2, 2007

    The thing about the Kessel run is that it is possible to express it in distance rather then time seeing that according to the background story the run goes through an area of the SW galaxy with a lot of black holes. And later in the movies it is shown that a sufficiently strong gravity well can kick a ship out of hyperspace. So if you take that interpretation Solo is basically saying I have a ship that can get deep into gravity wells.

  85. #86 tristero
    December 2, 2007

    Glad you received the cd, PZ! My normal computer is out of service, but I have a blog post pending on our meet up!

  86. #87 negentropyeater
    December 2, 2007

    Very interesting thread.

    The essential point, I think, is here : “science does correct itself” (unlike religion)
    But, there is a small caveat, it does take some time (in the case of Eugenics, give or take 20 years).
    I think in this 21st century, science will play an even bigger role in defining the moral imperatives humanity is going to face, whether global warming or the accelerated impact of genetics on healthcare and society.
    Unfortunately there is going to be increasing political and social pressures to discredit or on the contrary implement more rapidly the scientific recommendations. Add to this that these are really global issues and we have a poorly functioning UN with no real executive power. Add to this a declining general public scientific litteracy and the quasi inexistence of scientists as lawmakers doesn’t make me very optimistic for what is going to happen in the next 40 years.

  87. #88 dingusman
    December 2, 2007

    Sorry for being off-topic, but this is definitely a group of spirited (so to speak) athiests and you can maybe direct me. I’m looking for an active forum for athiests and religiously-minded souls (so to speak) to hammer out their differences. I’d be addressing myself primarily to athiests who I feel a strong affinity with but who, I think, are missing an important component in the whole debate. Thanks for any direction …

  88. #89 Ryan F Stello
    December 2, 2007

    dingusman (88),

    You might try the convert_me community over in LiveJournal, I tend to frequent there.

    But don’t go there if you aren’t willing to challenge your own beliefs (though, most religionists lie about that).

    Hopefully, they can help you out of your presumptivness.

    Cheerio!
    – S

  89. #90 Mister Post
    December 2, 2007

    Re: #16
    I could do it. I’d totally love to be that guy.
    I’ll need a little bit of cash and some students to set up the venues for the lectures, but I think the topic has enough merit to be worth wandering about the state/region doing public lectures.
    Can anyone recommend some resources I can reference as I write the lecture?

  90. #91 Mister Post
    December 2, 2007

    Correcting my URL from my comment above.

  91. #92 Mister Post
    December 2, 2007

    Correcting my URL from my comment above.

  92. #93 dingusma
    December 2, 2007

    RE: #89
    Thanks for that lead, Ryan. We’ll see how long I last! Somebody had “dingusman” already so I chose the more appropriate “pan(thiestic)materialist” username. Hope to have some good discussions.

  93. #94 Rev. Barky
    December 2, 2007

    I attended the speech given by Mr. West and after some thought on the matter, I think that the opposition was inneffective.
    John West is exercising one of the main goals of the wedge strategy – to engage in debate with mainstream scientists so that he can systematically cloud the issue. PZ, do you feel that you got anywhere with this guy? no, of course not because all he wanted was to show that he could fly with the big boys.

    Instead of debating the discovery Institute on the technical issues, the scientific community should have it own strategy for dealing with these charlatans and not give in to the urge to debate them as if they deserve it. Lee Salisbury attempted to do just that but wasn’t able to deflect the false technical rhetoric that framed the event. Notice how west had an immediate comeback for his comment that effectively derailed his thought process?

    Instead of debating Eugenics, how about something like:

    “Mr West, I would like to focus on the real reason you are here. Isn’t it true that you are here to promote theology over science as outlined in the wedge strategy and that you have no interest in contributing to the advancement of science?”

    I wish I had thought of it beforehand.

  94. #95 Rev. Barky
    December 2, 2007

    By the way, the video file for this sideshow was really huge so I have finished precessing the video and i have posted it in 3 parts on my blog http://www.aredant.blogspot.com. I will post a teaser (it has to be under 10 min) on Youtube.com with a link to the full version as well.

  95. #96 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    I wish I had thought of it beforehand.

    no worries, I suspect there will be plenty of chances for you to pin them on that.

  96. #97 Cath
    December 2, 2007

    Just wanna shout out about Richard Einhorn.

    I LOVE Voices of Light – what an amazing work. You should play it with the movie it was written for some day.

  97. #98 John Marley
    December 3, 2007

    Who Cares said:

    The thing about the Kessel run is that it is possible to express it in distance rather then time seeing that according to the background story the run goes through an area of the SW galaxy with a lot of black holes. And later in the movies it is shown that a sufficiently strong gravity well can kick a ship out of hyperspace. So if you take that interpretation Solo is basically saying I have a ship that can get deep into gravity wells.

    I’m pretty sure that was an ad hoc explanation, necessitated by the fan complaints.

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