Texas Creationists Make their Move: Where is Ben Stein to Defend “Free Speech?”

November 30, 2007

I can’t miss mentioning the biggest story on the sciencebloginterwebz! Remember creationist State Education Board Director Don McLeroy and his assurances that, in the great state of Texas, science education would be about science?

“Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community – and intelligent design does not.”

Sounded pretty good, no? At the time I was pretty skeptical. Apparently, though, not skeptical enough.

McLeroy and his folks are looking to revamp Texas’ science standards soon, and apparently, are proactively purging state government of anyone who might get in the way of their agenda. Yes, that’s right: for merely forwarding an email on her Texas Education Agency account, science-lovin Chris Comer was booted out. What was the forward? An email merely announcing and recommending a local and upcoming talk by someone who opposes Intelligent Design.

Seems like a job for Intelligent Design pal Ben Stein and his crusade to “protect free speech,” no? I’m sure he’ll get right on it.

Texas Church converts en masse from Christianity to Judiasm

November 28, 2007

This is a truly fascinating story: after careful reflection, discussion, angst, and many painful community divisions, a Christian minister and many members of his congregation convert to Judaism, and discover new insights and heritage to explore. In a world where outspoken evangelical movements like Jews for Jesus get all the press, it’s fascinating to read about a community of believers who instead of being recruited to a religion, reached out for a non-evangelical one instead.

Not that my godless two cents matters, but I’ve still always found Jewish apologetics about what their scriptures really say about the messiah and other matters to be far more convincing than Christian apologetics.  Jewish interpretations just seem more robust, consistent, and scholarly.  Once you really understand what a fundamental repurposing of Judaism that the Christian movement entailed, you’ll understand why speaking glibly about a “Judeo-Christian” anything is far more misleading than enlightening.

Hoodia Hoodoo can’t Scam Skeptics

November 28, 2007

I knew I couldn’t glance over at alt-med megasite NewsTarget and resist ridicule, but there’s simply too much to dash off before work. In the meantime, check out Secundum Artem a where skeptical pharmacy student N.B. does some quick calculations and figures out that there’s something tremendously fishy about popular weight loss supplement “Hoodia”.

Deepak Attack! Choking on Chopra’s Medical Malarkey

November 27, 2007

Deepak Chopra believes in positive thinking, which is why he’ll never ever realize that he’s a fool.

In response to Chopra’s latest medical advice antics, Orac over at Respectful Insolence slices Chopra’s arguments to nice digestible pieces, and then Mark Hoofnagle of the denialism blog goes and chokes on those pieces anyway.

Both bloggers are well worth a read, delivering useful insight beyond merely exposing inanity. Hoofnagle in particular makes an extremely important point regarding how alternative medicine stacks up against the conventional variety:

The last half is again just an example of the selection pressure for ineffective treatments for altie medicine. You probably can trust most quack remedies to do nothing, and therefore be pretty safe. And lots of people each year do die in hospitals, therefore hospitals must be dangerous killers of the innocent! Or, maybe, lots of people die in hospitals because that’s where the sick people are, and you know what? No one lives forever. Eventually, something gets you.

Chopra makes it sound like a 20-year-old who goes into the ER to get stitches is going to die of MRSA. What this ignores is that hospitals are responsible for taking care of people who are actually really sick, often very old, and frequently near death. In other words, hospitals take care of patients that no altie practitioners in their right mind would touch with a ten-foot pole, you know, those with real sickness. If you actually look carefully at the reports that the quacks cite to show how dangerous hospitals are, it’s really a reflection of just how incredibly sick and likely to die the patients were in the first place.

In any case, go read. I may have gotten all worked up about Chopra’s inane musings on Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness, but those sorts of bad ideas are ultimately pretty harmless. Chopra’s rambling diatribes about health and medicine, on the other hand, have the potential to truly hurt and even kill the people who might buy into his alternate reality. The more people are out there armed with the knowledge to counter him, the better.

The War on Christmas… and on the Golden Compass

November 27, 2007

Two things caught my attention tonight:

First, a Guy in the Pew gives the rational Christian’s take on the War on Christmas. We on the non-believer side of things spend a lot of time bemoaning this phony, bullying crusade for its pandering politics, but Mr. Blanchard reminds believers that those trying to pass this off as a truly Christian cause have some real explaining to do. His argument is similar to what’s always struck me as bizarre about religious support for “In God We Trust” or “Under God. Why get so excited about pushing to get some watered down religious graffiti tagged onto the Pledge and pennies when you live in a country where you can pray all you want out loud and undiluted? Neither atheist nor believer alike should take it for granted.

Second, Hemant over at Friendly Atheist notes the explosion of online religious groups all calling for boycotts of The Golden Compass, a forthcoming film based on the work of outspoken atheist author Phillip Pullman. I’m with Hemant as to how overblown the controversy is. We have to hear over and over that atheists are so militant and uppity, and yet I don’t seem to recall atheists similarly on the warpath over Christian evangelist author C.S. Lewis’ Narnia films. Nor are atheists particularly worked up about the film (honestly, talking animals annoy the heck out of me and I have a hard time seeing myself rushing out to go see it). Again, compare our generally blasé attitude to the marketing mania over The Passion of the Christ, where the amount of grassroots organization and hysterical hype made it seem like the very fate of Christianity rested on its boxoffice returns.

The one thing I sort of sadly expect from Compass is that it will make a convenient target for cultural war spin. The film, which was reportedly plagued by production problems, may or may not be any good on its own rights, and with organized boycott campaigns and media talking heads railing against it, its chances of doing well at the theaters seem slim. That’s going to make it a tempting target for endless overwrought pieces about the film’s poor showing means the recent surge of publicly visible atheism is a fading fad. Conservative news filter Matt Drudge is notorious for juxtaposed stories, especially ones that try to make culture war points by comparing some films to others. I’ll be mighty surprised if he doesn’t start up a section linking every dehyping bit of fluff on the film he can find.

In any case: I’m hard at work composing both a sort of “guide for newbies and journalists” on Expelled, complete with some more information from the pro-science folks “featured” in the recent promotional clip (the ones supposedly threatening Ben Stein for “asking questions”). And as I promised after the recent rounds of back and forth with National Review bloggers over stem cells, I’m also working on a rather weighty piece taking on the common claims about their moral status and proposing a better way.  Plus, hasn’t the aptly named alt-med woo-site NewsTarget published dozens and dozens more wacky articles since I last gave them some love?

Intelligent Design’s math whiz William Dembski Doesn’t Like Straw Men? (E.O. Wilson is in for it!)

November 26, 2007

Intelligent Design proponent William Dembski thinks that sociobiologist E.O. Wilson is pushing a caricature of his cause.

Does he have a point?

Here’s Wilson:

The reasoning they offer is not based on evidence but on the lack of it. The formulation of intelligent design is a default argument advanced in support of a non sequitur. It is in essence the following: there are some phenomena that have not yet been explained and that (most importantly) the critics personally cannot imagine being explained; therefore there must be a supernatural designer at work.

And here’s Dembski…

Read the rest of this entry »

Why Political Journalism is Junk & Politicians aren’t that Phony

November 26, 2007

If you’ve ever bemoaned the cesspool of gotcha gossip and empty-headed horse-race nattering that is modern political journalism, Kevin Drum has some thoughts on the issue worth considering: maybe we should feel sorry for them!

No, really.

In fact, as someone who’s worked on the nuts and bolts part of several political campaigns, Drum’s take on just how excruciatingly dull the process can be, especially on the level of “message,” strikes me as pretty dead-on. The way campaigns work isn’t something that anyone involved really wants it to be: it’s just sort of an inevitable competitive outcome of the process. The public loves to hate politicians and their supposed plastic insincerity, but the reality is its mostly the public itself that’s to blame for how politicians act and speak in public. Most politicians are real people and pretty decent for all that, but they live in a culture where reality comes across as fake, and you can only seem real by carefully faking it. The reality of being a modern candidate is a grueling schedule of endless repetition, and the reality of being a political journalist is having to listen to it.

I’m not expecting to find much sympathy for the powerful, but maybe a little less glib bemoaning of the way things are would do us all some good.