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"Breathtaking Inanity"
That's how judge John E. Jones of Pennsylvania, whom I met when he spoke at the evolution society conference at Penn, described the case for "Intelligent Design." Doesn't seem to stop the fundies from popping out of the woodwork to try selling the inanity in their neck of the (back) woods.

Now, science blogger Eric Berger writes that Warren Chisum, " a powerful and influential member of the Texas House of Representatives who hails from Pampa" (very near Kansas, an embarrassed Texas tipster tells me) circulated a memo to the Texas House of Reps that the "evolution monopoly"! has to end:

If you have a reasonable understanding of science, this is all completely ludicrous, but let me walk you through the argument proposed by Bridges and Chisum anyway. In 2004 Judge John E. Jones, a Republican church-goer, ruled that teaching intelligent design in schools violated the constitutional separation of church and state. The central thesis of the Bridges-Chisum argument is that evolution science is also based on religion, and therefore is also unconstitutional. Here's a quote from the memo:
All of that can now be changed! Indisputable evidence -- long hidden but now available to everyone -- demonstrates conclusively that so-called "secular evolution science" is the Big-Bang 15-billion-year alternate "creation scenario" of the Pharisee Religion. This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic "holy book" Kabbala dating back at least two millennia.

I know, it's a completely overwhelming argument. However, if you're still doubting -- which I find hard to believe -- the Bridges-Chisum memo says all of the supporting information can be found on the Fixed Earth Web site, where you can also find indisputable evidence that Copernicus was wrong, and the Sun actually rotates around the Earth. (Phil Plait is ready to debate geocentrism, if there are any takers.)

This would all be really funny if the Texas legislature didn't have some sway over the State Board of Education (which is subject to the Sunset Law) and if Chisum weren't a powerful Rep (he's chairman of the Appropriations Committee.) The Texas House could pass a bill ordering the board to stop teaching evolution, or perhaps Chisum could easily enough lean on some of the board's more conservative members to take action.

The fact is Chisum and Bridges are not only wrong about the science, they're in a position to act upon their stunning ignorance of science. I'm all for religion, but suggesting that teaching evolution in "is causing incalculable harm to every student and every truth-loving citizen" strays much too far beyond the realm of faith into that of rational lawmaking.

Links within the excerpt are live if you click on the link to Berger's piece -- including a link to the actual memo. It's a shame Berger feels compelled to say "I'm all for religion," when it's unlikely, as a science writer, he's anything of the sort. Perhaps he means "I'm all for freedom of religion," or "I really don't want to offend anybody." There's far too much of that. As Daniel Dennett told me at the evolution society conference dinner:

Give religion no more respect than you’d accord to animal husbandry.

For those who'd like a good fact sheet about evolution, here's 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense, from ScientificAmerican.com. Here are a few excerpts:

1. Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law.

Many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a hierarchy of certainty -- above a mere hypothesis but below a law. Scientists do not use the terms that way, however. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution -- or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter -- they are not expressing reservations about its truth.

In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as "an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as 'true.'" The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling.

All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists' conclusions less certain.

3. Evolution is unscientific, because it is not testable or falsifiable. It makes claims about events that were not observed and can never be re-created.

This blanket dismissal of evolution ignores important distinctions that divide the field into at least two broad areas : microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution looks at changes within species over time -- changes that may be preludes to speciation, the origin of new species. Macroevolution studies how taxonomic groups above the level of species change. Its evidence draws frequently from the fossil record and DNA comparisons to reconstruct how various organisms may be related.

These days even most creationists acknowledge that microevolution has been upheld by tests in the laboratory (as in studies of cells, plants and fruit flies) and in the field (as in Grant's studies of evolving beak shapes among Galápagos finches). Natural selection and other mechanisms -- such as chromosomal changes, symbiosis and hybridization -- can drive profound changes in populations over time.

The historical nature of macroevolutionary study involves inference from fossils and DNA rather than direct observation. Yet in the historical sciences (which include astronomy, geology and archaeology, as well as evolutionary biology), hypotheses can still be tested by checking whether they accord with physical evidence and whether they lead to verifiable predictions about future discoveries. For instance, evolution implies that between the earliest-known ancestors of humans (roughly five million years old) and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (about 100,000 years ago), one should find a succession of hominid creatures with features progressively less apelike and more modern, which is indeed what the fossil record shows. But one should not -- and does not -- find modern human fossils embedded in strata from the Jurassic period (144 million years ago). Evolutionary biology routinely makes predictions far more refined and precise than this, and researchers test them constantly.

Evolution could be disproved in other ways, too. If we could document the spontaneous generation of just one complex life-form from inanimate matter, then at least a few creatures seen in the fossil record might have originated this way. If superintelligent aliens appeared and claimed credit for creating life on earth (or even particular species), the purely evolutionary explanation would be cast in doubt. But no one has yet produced such evidence.

It should be noted that the idea of falsifiability as the defining characteristic of science originated with philosopher Karl Popper in the 1930s. More recent elaborations on his thinking have expanded the narrowest interpretation of his principle precisely because it would eliminate too many branches of clearly scientific endeavor.

Posted by aalkon at February 17, 2007 10:22 AM

Comments

Dennett said: "Give religion no more respect than you’d accord to animal husbandry."

What? According to my dictionary "husbandry" is the "application of scientifc principles, esp. to animal breeding" and, more generally, the arts and techniques associated with agriculture. Dennett is praising religion more than he knows!

Posted by: johnshade at February 17, 2007 8:38 AM

I'll explain: He isn't comparing religion to animal husbandry. He means look at religion as rationally and dispassionately as you would other subjects.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 17, 2007 8:51 AM

IRONY ALERT:

Several of the 15 "Creationist Nonsense" talking points (including the two you list) are CORRECT...if you replace the word "Evolution" with the words "Intelligent Design".

Posted by: RedPretzel at February 17, 2007 9:28 AM

One big point that the creationists misunderstand about science when they play their "gotcha" games with evolutionists - "ah-ha, evolution can't explain THIS right now, therefore the whole theory is wrong" - is that at a fundamental level ALL theories are wrong. They are models to describe how things operate in the world, but not being those things, are in some sense incomplete and incorrect. The measure of a theory is how well it explains the data we currently have, and how useful is it in telling us where we might find more data. Considered in this way, evolution is one of the most useful theories in the sciences. And "intelligent" design fails completely, in that it is a non-explanation of everything, a "just so" story.

Posted by: justin case at February 17, 2007 9:46 AM

Chisum and Bridges are in hot water. It seems both supported a memo that supports the belief that the Jews were behind Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection. Enjoy:

Rep. Bridges:
http://www.ajc.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/ajc/georgia/entries/2007/02/15/antievolution_m.html

and Warren Chisum:
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/DN-chisum_15tex.ART.State.Edition1.2063416.html

Posted by: Joe at February 17, 2007 9:56 AM

Sorry, Amy about the similar posting.

Posted by: Joe at February 17, 2007 9:59 AM

Here's fun link with two flowcharts: one describes the processes science uses to understand the world; the other the processes of faith. Enjoy.

Posted by: justin case at February 17, 2007 10:02 AM

Several of the 15 "Creationist Nonsense" talking points (including the two you list) are CORRECT...if you replace the word "Evolution" with the words "Intelligent Design".

Oh, do enlighten us. There's nothing intelligent about saying you know how the world was created, despite lacking any proof for your contention.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 17, 2007 10:34 AM

But let's look at the bright side: Bush is no longer the biggest imbecile to come from Texas!

Posted by: cadavra at February 19, 2007 12:25 PM

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