Archive for February 21st, 2007|Daily archive page

Quicky: Creationist Bashing

Just a quick heads-up on this absolutely wonderful article by Bruno Maddox on the soon to be opened creation museum in the fine town of Hebron, Kentucky. The article, published in the latest issue of Discovery, begins thusly…

In the beginning, wrote God in His epic, loosely autobiographical best seller, The Bible, the Lord made the heavens and the Earth. Pondering from the vile comfort of the Marriott in Hebron, Kentucky, I assumed that this single statement represented the bulk, if not the entirety, of creationist ideology. Hence the name, I reckoned in a flash of insight. God created everything; if something exists, then God created it. Yes, that’s what they believe, those creationists.

A creationist group called Answers in Genesis, which believes in the literal, scientific truth of the Bible, has decided to spend $27 million building a creation museum only minutes away by cab from this unlovely spot. When it opens in May, the museum is going to try to dazzle people with the wonder, beauty, and sheer scientific cunning exhibited by God during that action-packed week when He willed everything that exists into being. Yet the museum’s founders have chosen to set it in one of the few spots on Earth that could plausibly have been designed by chimpanzees.

There is another great irony to the project, it occurs to me as I finish my coffee and rise to meet my driver: that of God almost certainly not existing.

… and simply gets better.

Two side stories here.

First, you might take note of one of the persons mentioned in the article, Ken Ham. He is a man of obviously high integrity,  and who has a reason for living in Kentucky and not Austrailia.

And second, don’t forget the wonderful idea from the SciBlogger and gray parrot lover, Shelley Batts about what to do when these museums start to open. Something about Annoy-a-trons

Darwinistic Redoubts

It is rare that I get viscerally upset. Usually I simply have a passing feeling of unease leading into a rather grumpy day.

But this post got me rather riled up despite its rather innocuous start,

What is the most significant year to remember in relatively modern history? Is it 1776? Is it 1941? Is it Sept 11 2001?

Some will argue that the answer is 1859, the year Darwin published his Origin of Species.

While I could quibble about the fact that Sept. 11 2001 isn’t a year but a date, I would prefer first to point out who is writing this. Vance Esler is an oncologist born, raised and working in Texas. Not only does he treat people with various types of cancer, he is actively and proudly involved in research, recruiting patients for clinical trials.

Thus the third paragraph in his post is a bit of a breath-taker…

This book has been credited with providing the foundation upon which secular progressives began to build concepts which have led to the steady removal of God from public thought and life. After all, if life is only the result of random events occurring in a random universe, and not the product of an intelligent design, then it becomes so much easier to marginalize religious thought and influence in society.

Uh Oh.

We all know where this will lead and yes indeed it does move on into a rant about the political incorrectness of challenging evolutionary science.

Dr Esler points to the infamous ‘challenge’ to the theory of evolution from the Discovery Institute (DI) and signed by 700 scientists! Those “who have reached the epitome of their fields” in “engineering, mathematics, computer science, biology, chemistry or one of the other natural sciences.“

He does ‘forget’ to mention that PhDs in things like physics and mechanical engineering rarely involve deep discussions of evolution but no matter – 700 is an impressive number. And, being involved in research and scrupulously fair, Dr Esler directly linked to the similar list of unequivocal evolution supporters at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE)

Wait – he didn’t!? Hmm.

As of this writing (Feb. 21, 2006), the NCSE list has 790 signatories.

There is a catch. In order to sign the exclusive Discovery Institute list one must be a PhD in something sciency.

For entry onto the NSCE list one must not only be a PhD in something sciency but also be named ‘Steve.’ (Well, “[n]ot just Steve, but also Stephens, Stevens, Stephanies, Stefans, and so forth. Etiennes and Estebans are welcome.” You get the idea.)

You see, even though most scientists understand that research isn’t directly conducted by opinion poll, the Steve list shows clearly that not only is there resounding support in the scientific community for evolution, but the sub-set of scientists named Steve supporting evolution is larger than the DI list.

Oh! And while there aren’t many biologists on the Discovery Institute’s list, about 2/3 of the Steve list are. (Perhaps closer to their field of expertise. No?)

The rest of Dr Esler’s post is taken almost verbatim from the WorldNetDaily website, but what really got me going was his personal summation.

There is a another site called for physicians who have similar concerns. As a hematologist/medical oncologist who deals with the disastrous results of mutations every day, I can readily attest to the fact that most mutations are fatal, and it stretches credulity to think one could actually result in the appearance of an entirely new species. Needless to say, I have added my name to that list. [my emphasis]

I won’t touch the fallacy “Argument from Personal Incredulity.” I’ll let Wikipedia do that. Or perhaps you might just want to Google it.

But that other thing – the “most mutations are fatal” quip? Is that a ‘fact’ ‘Dr’ Esler?

So this rather detailed discussion for lay-people about mutations not only not being fatal but not even harmful is just so much hemp haze?

Q: Doesn’t evolution depend on mutations and aren’t most mutations harmful?
A: No. Most mutations are neither harmful nor helpful.

That’s the short answer. The long answer is that mutations can be neutral (neither helpful nor harmful), strictly harmful, strictly helpful, or (and this is important) whether they are harmful or helpful depends on the environment. Most mutations are either neutral or their effect depends on the environment. [My emphasis]

Dr Esler, have you ever heard of people having six fingers? Are the mutations to the H5N1 virus lethal to the virus or good for the virus and potentially harmful to us?

To sum up I would like to quote Dr Esler again. This time from another one of his posts.

It is one thing to place one’s property in the hands of a repairman or craftsman. It is another to place one’s life at risk. Such relationships are historically based upon trust. So whom do you trust? Do you follow the advice of the tall, good-looking, affable young man who borders on cocky because everyone thinks he is so great? [Barack Obama] Or do you rely upon the quiet, thoughtful physician who listens to your complaints and says, “I need to think about this.” There is no easy answer. Trust can take time to grow.

So right now I remain skeptical about non-physicians trying to rank physicians based upon dubious criteria and poorly collected data. I also maintain a healthy skepticism of doctors who are always right, always know what to do, and who register highly on my BS Detector.

Sir, I don’t know whether you are a “quiet, thoughtful physician” but a skeptic you are not.

I do not put my trust of evolution in the hands of electrical engineers or oncologists but in the hands of evolutionary biologists. Something about my feeling about non-specialists trying to rank things based on “dubious criteria and poorly collected data.”

You sir, are not an expert in mutation. You sir are not an expert in evolution. You sir, are an expert on cancer. You sir, register rather highly on a detector of mine.

If you were a skeptic, then you might know that true sceptics realise that scientists understand the limitations of their own knowledge. Dr Esler, while your knowledge of cancer might be broad, it does not lead you to be able to make judgements about the validity of evolution.

But I am sure you are a religious person, full of integrity. I am sure that you are convinced your position is correct and intellectually honest.

Thus, I wonder if you would be willing to put up a sign in your practice along the lines of “I DOUBT DARWIN – EVOUTION IS DESTROYING TEXAS” or something along those lines. That way your patients would know what they are getting into. While you are at it why not take a picture of the sign including your partners and post it to your blog?

But somehow – I doubt you will.

And because I feel this doubt, I felt forced to man the redoubts – for Darwin.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Castro will be glad. Just like his own citizens, all those foreign terrorists the US imported into his country still don’t have any rights.

In what will obviously spawn a plethora of news stories, cable news program ‘analysis,’ pro and contra blog entries and late night pundit jokes (DailyShow – Just had to take this week off – huh?), the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the Military Commissions Act on Tuesday. Thus spoke Zarathushtra headlined the WP, NYT, The Guardian, … From the Washington Post,

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that hundreds of detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, do not have the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal courts, a victory for the Bush administration that could lead to the Supreme Court again addressing the issue.

In its 2 to 1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld one of the central components of the Military Commissions Act, the law enacted last year by a then-Republican-controlled Congress that stripped Guantanamo detainees of their right to such habeas corpus petitions. Lawyers have filed the petitions on behalf of virtually all of the nearly 400 detainees still at Guantanamo, challenging President Bush’s right to hold them indefinitely without charges. Yesterday’s ruling effectively dismisses the cases.

Attorneys for the detainees vowed to quickly petition the Supreme Court to hear the case.

But, instead of looking forward at what this means. Whether this move is appropriate and understandable, I would prefer to look back briefly. I’d like to answer a question asked some time ago by one of my commenters Political Teen Blogger, FrecklesCassie. How do we know these guys are so bad that they need to be locked away on a tropical island somewhere?

The answer is patently simple: because someone says so; you can’t ask who of course, that’s classified.

At least that is the summary of a report put forth by the Seton hall law professor (and brother of one of the defending attorneys) Mark P. Denbeaux. In what can only be considered one of the best analysis of how the people in Guantanamo came to defined as ‘military combatants’ and thus to languish in an American torture camp, prison, detention center.

Professor Denbeaux and his students looked into the cases of 393 of the 558 Guantanamo detainees. More specifically, they looked into those cases where Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) were convened to limit the detainees ability to request habeas corpus, This is because per definition in the MCA, Military Combatants are excluded from habeas corpus rights. To the casual reader, this system seems fair. But a closer examination clearly shows more kangaroo court than clear cut justice.

In those cases where the government was willing forced to release the information about the CSRTs, Denbeaux’s report is damning.

The most important documents in this record were produced by the Government in response to orders by United States District Judges that the Department of Defense provide the entire record of the Combat Status Review Tribunal for review by counsel for at least 102 detainees. These are described as habeas-compelled “full CSRT returns.” Without these documents, it would only be possible to review the process promised. With the 102 “full CSRT returns,” this Report can also compare the process promised with the process provided.

The results of this review are startling. The process that was promised was modest at best. The process that was actually provided was far less than the written procedures appear to require.

The detainees were denied any right to counsel. Instead, they were assigned a “personal representative” who advised each detainee that the personal representative was neither his lawyer nor his advocate, and that anything that the detainee said could be used against him. In contrast to the absence of any legal representative for the detainee, the Tribunal was required to have at least one lawyer and the Recorder (Prosecutor) was recommended to be a lawyer. [my emphasis]

I can only urge anyone who simply wants to understand the process being used to deny people a fair chance to defend themselves in court to read and spread this report.

I won’t argue about the fact that many of the people might have been in Afghanistan; that many may have been fighting for the Taliban (who, as we might remember were the ligitimate government at the time.). I won’t argue about the fact that some of these people probably should justifiably be locked up and denied freedom. I won’t discuss the fact that the Afghan culture is seeped in traditions of revenge and score settling. I won’t even think of the number of scores that needed to be settled after almost 30 years of civil war.

But to assume that the American government is legitimately holding all of these people basically because some classified source says so? Um. Excuse me?

Let’s simply plug into another event in currently making headlines. (No, I mean neither Anna Nicole Smith nor Britney’s newfound talents in hair styling.) Let’s look at the wonderful job the intelligence agencies did leading up to the Iraq war; the job done so well that Scooter Libby is on trail for lying to cover up leaking information about it.

Now. Ask yourselves whether these same American intelligence organisations were better informed during those confusing times in Afghanistan during 2002 and 2003. Where those organisations any better than they were in developing Iraq information? Ask yourselves whether this administration is willing to own up to its mistakes. Ask yourselves why most of the evidence being presented is so ‘classified’ not even the defendants can see it.

If you do all that, I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion as I have as to why many of these people are in Guantanamo,

Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Welcome to Gitmo.