Monthly Archives: March 2009

Texas: Christina Comer’s Lawsuit Dismissed

WE first posted about the Comer litigation here: Victim of Anti-Evolution Discrimination Files Lawsuit, and we followed up with this: Comer v. Scott — Background Information.

Simply put, Christina Comer sued the Texas Education Agency (the “TEA”) and Education Commissioner Robert Scott, alleging that she was fired merely because she forwarded an email from the National Center for Science Education’s Glenn Branch announcing a talk by NCSE board member Dr. Barbara Forrest, who was to give a lecture that was critical of teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

One might say that she was “expelled.”

News of this litigation has been scarce in recent months, but now, in the Dallas Morning News, we read: Ex-Texas Education Agency employee’s lawsuit tossed in ouster over creationism e-mail. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday by a former state science curriculum director who alleged that she was illegally fired for sending out an e-mail on a lecture that was critical of those wanting to teach creationism in science classes.

Let’s read on:

Comer said in her suit that the agency’s neutrality policy [regarding evolution and creationism] had the effect of endorsing religion, and thus violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

State attorneys said Comer was fired for sending out e-mails from the TEA Web site that gave the impression the agency supported the views of a lecture speaker, Barbara Forrest, who wrote a book critical of the tactics of creationists and their attempts to inject religion into science classes.

They certainly wouldn’t want anyone getting that impression! Now here’s what happened in court:

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with the state and Scott on Tuesday, granting a motion for summary judgment and dismissing the lawsuit. Yeakel had indicated during a hearing in December that he was skeptical of Comer’s claims.

“Summary judgment” means that there was no issue of fact to be tried, so the judge could rule “summarily.” Litigants frequently file motions for summary judgment, but (unless one party’s case is total nonsense) the other side almost always convinces the court that some significant issues remain to be tried.

It’s not unusual for summary judgments to be overturned on appeal, and then the case is sent back to the trial court for further proceedings. Because trial judges don’t like being reversed, they’re often reluctant to grant summary judgment. But it happens.

It’s possible that the parties had stipulated to what all the events had been, in which case no trial was necessary and the judge was required to rule for one side or the other based on the uncontroverted facts. At this point we don’t know what the situation was in the Comer case, but we have our doubts that both sides stipulated to everything. Hey, we weren’t there, so maybe that’s exactly what happened.

One more excerpt:

TEA officials also said Comer made unauthorized remarks not connected to the debate over creationism during her tenure at the agency, another factor in her termination. She was the science curriculum director for 10 years.

There’s more to the article, but that’s the essence of it. Unless there’s an appeal, and we suspect there will be, the Comer litigation is over.

Addendum: One of our far-flung network of clandestine operatives supplied us with a copy of the judge’s ruling, for which we are grateful. We are now informed that both parties moved for summary judgment, so in effect, both agreed that there were no factual issues to be tried. The judge took no procedural risk in granting such judgment.

Essentially, the facts were the existence of the Agency’s neutrality policy, Comer’s email, and her firing. It all boiled down to whether the neutrality policy was unconstitutional. It seems that the policy applied way beyond the evolution-creationism issue. It applied to all curriculum issues, because the Agency had no role in designing the curriculum — that was the job of McLeroy’s Board of Education. Thus the neutrality policy had a secular origin, and if it advanced religion in this one instance, that was incidental to the policy’s purpose. So Comer’s violation of a secular policy wasn’t a constitutional problem, and therefore (said the court) she had no case.

Second Addendum: The court pleadings have been placed online and can be found here: Legal Documentation for Comer v. Scott.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Michael Behe Speaks at Penn State

THE intellectual crown jewel of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, Michael Behe, is in the news again because of another speaking engagement. We always enjoy Behe’s public appearances. The last one resulted in our writing this: Behe Admits He Has No Theory.

At the website of the Daily Collegian, published at Pennsylvania State University, we read: Author defends intelligent design. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Behe, who was brought to Penn State by the Science and the Bible club (SciBle), spoke about his belief in the intelligent design theory.

We assumed he wasn’t invited by the biology department. Let’s read on:

Michael Behe gained notoriety after testifying in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial, in favor of teaching the intelligent design theory in the school system, and has also written numerous books about the subject.

Notoriety is the appropriate word for Behe’s courtroom performance — as a star witness for the losing side. See: Kitzmiller v. Dover: Michael Behe’s Testimony. And it’s true that he’s written books on ID; but like all other ID promoters, Behe has had no ID research published in any peer-reviewed science journal. We continue:

Behe began with a disclaimer that his beliefs do not reflect the beliefs of Lehigh University, where he is a professor of biochemistry, his colleagues, or even his mother, he added jokingly.

Was it really a joke that Behe’s mother thinks he’s a clown? It could be true. We already knew that his colleagues at Lehigh University have bestowed upon Behe the remarkable distinction of publicly disassociating themselves from him. See: Department Position on Evolution and “Intelligent Design”.

Here’s more:

His arguments in favor of intelligent design included what he thought to be obvious indicators. Behe said design is not mystical, explaining that one can tell when something is designed. Behe used Mount Rushmore, compared to natural mountains, as a designed structure.

Most persuasive! Moving along:

Behe’s [sic] also said that those in the science field agree that aspects of biology appear designed and cited other scientists, including those in support of Darwinism.

Breathtaking! In one brief statement, Behe has quote-mined the whole world! What else has he got to say?

“Many people think science should stay away from something beyond nature,” Behe said. “I disagree.”

This is becoming tragic — he thinks scientists should be out there ghost-hunting or something. Here’s another excerpt:

Behe then moved on to rebut several objections to intelligent design; however, he spent a large amount of this time discussing the trial, in which intelligent design was unsupported, and poking holes in the judge’s findings.

Still re-arguing the Kitzmiller case! Well, creationism requires that one must reject reality, so this makes sense — in its own way.

Behe has become the ID movement’s Harold Stassen. Surely you’ve heard of Stassen — he contended for the Republican party’s Presidential nomination nine times between 1948 and 1992. Without success.

Hang in there, Michael — your day may come.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Creationists: Moving the Goalposts

THE highly esteemed creationist website of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) is making preparations for the inevitable day when scientists announce that they have created life in the lab.

It has long been a creationist claim that life is such an incredibly amazing, utterly impossible phenomenon that it couldn’t have occurred by natural processes. Only a supernatural agency could have created it. Indeed, the “failure” of Darwin to explain the origin of life — something he never attempted — is frequently cited as a “defect” or “weakness” in the theory of evolution.

However, numerous scientists have been working to artificially create living material out of non-living chemicals. See Synthetic life. When the deed is finally accomplished, how will the creationists react?

No, they won’t admit that they were wrong. Creationists never do that. Instead, they will deploy some of the arguments that we see in this article at the ICR website: Scientists Seek Second Genesis. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

The invention of a synthetic life form is a dream shared by many scientists, and they are beginning to see it as a possibility that is achievable within a decade. New Scientist magazine stated that “engineering a second genesis would…broaden our view of life” by bringing an alternate version of what evolution supposedly accomplished “3.5 billion years ago” when it made the first living cell. A “second genesis” could also presumably lead to the invention of novel molecules that could solve “practical problems.” But would it provide proof of an evolutionary origin for life?

This is the article they’re talking about: Second Genesis: Life, but not as we know it . As for the AIG question, “But would it provide proof of an evolutionary origin for life?” we can confidently say this: It would clearly demonstrate that life can be created by non-miraculous means. That alone should shatter the creationists’ claim. (And yes, we know that the term “evolutionary origin for life” is erroneous. The origin of life is an issue of organic chemistry, not biology; but to creationists, everything they don’t know or don’t like is “evolutionary.”)

Let’s read on:

The researchers’ goal is to construct “an entirely new form of life unlike any that exists today.” But their quest has instead served to clearly demonstrate the specified complexity of life. Each new technical breakthrough in the laboratory shows that the biological processes necessary for basic life required skill and genius to construct. These studies are methodically revealing the utter inadequacy of the raw laws of chemistry and physics to accomplish the technical feats required to produce and maintain viability.

Oooo! Specified complexity! That sounds important — except that it means nothing. And in what way does producing synthetic life reveal “the utter inadequacy of the raw laws of chemistry and physics to accomplish the technical feats required to produce and maintain viability”? Nothing done will be contrary to the laws of chemistry or physics. Yes, it’s difficult. But lab researchers don’t have nature’s luxury of millions of cubic miles of ocean and billions of years to play with. If one wants to rush things along, it’s bound to be difficult.

We’ll skip some accounts of difficulties the researchers have encountered, and pick up what the article has to say about it:

These examples illustrate the principle of irreducible complexity, that certain whole systems must be formed intact if they are to have any functionality. Trying to develop them piecemeal does not work. Nor has there been a successful demonstration of unaided nature solving the various technical challenges that these scientists are trying to overcome by manipulating, making, and supplying the right parts in the right environments in the right amounts and at the right times.

Amusing, isn’t it? No, mere lab difficulties don’t “illustrate the principle of irreducible complexity.” Nor has it been demonstrated that trying”to develop them piecemeal does not work.” It’s difficult work, but there’s no justification for claiming it’s impossible. Those engaged in such work predict that they’ll accomplish their goal within a decade, according to the New Scientist article that AIG cited. Didn’t they read it?

Here’s more from AIG, and now you can see how they’re running away from the inevitable:

And even if scientists somehow produce a complex chemical concoction that is specified enough to perform some of the tasks required by real living cells, they will only have succeeded in proving that life-by-nature alone was not possible — it took an intelligent agent to produce.

Yes, it will take the work of intelligent people, but people aren’t gods. If mere men can accomplish such a thing, it will be a clear demonstration that no supernatural agency is required. The creationists know this, or at least they dimly sense it. But they can’t admit it. Here’s the end of the article:

Although the physical machinery of a self-replicating, metabolizing, artificial cell is conceivably reproducible — albeit by massive human exertion — the non-physical aspects found in much of animal life is not. The Creator made sure that creatures whose “life of the flesh is in the blood” would possess minds, wills, and emotions. These three qualities, at least, will perennially resist laboratory-based efforts at duplication.

Now they’ve completely moved the goalposts. We may create life, but there’s always “minds, wills, and emotions.” Those will be the next “proof” of the creationists’ claim that supernatural agencies are necessary for our existence.

It’s the God of the gaps argument. As Einstein once said:

To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with the natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. But I am persuaded that such behaviour on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress… .

– Albert Einstein, Science and Religion

But don’t worry about the creationists; they’ll always have gaps to exploit. When life is created in the lab — by mere men — they’ll be ready. They’ll fall back to their next line of defense — “minds, wills, and emotions.”

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Life Aboard Noah’s Ark

ONCE MORE, dear reader, your Curmudgeon brings you the view from Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of creationist wisdom. They’ve posted an article dealing with one of the greatest problems of all time: Caring for the Animals on the Ark.

At last, thanks to the tireless work of the creation scientists at AIG, all your questions will be answered. The author of this informative article is John Woodmorappe. We were actually impressed with an earlier article of his at the AIG website, about which we wrote here: Creationism and Tree Ring Chronology. Let’s see how he handles this one. We can only give you a few excerpts, but we’ll try to choose some of the best. The bold font was added by us:

According to Scripture, Noah’s Ark was a safe haven for representatives of all the kinds of air-breathing land animals that God created. While it is possible that God made miraculous provisions for the daily care of these animals, it is not necessary — or required by Scripture — to appeal to miracles. …. It turns out that a study of existing, low-tech animal care methods answers trivial objections to the Ark. In fact, many solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems are rather straightforward.

Interested? Of course you are. Let’s read on:

According to the Bible, the Ark had three decks (floors). It is not difficult to show that there was plenty of room for 16,000 animals (the maximum number of animals on the Ark, if the most liberal approach to counting animals is applied), assuming they required approximately the same floor space as animals in typical farm enclosures and laboratories. The vast majority of the creatures (birds, reptiles, and mammals) were small (the largest only a few hundred pounds of body weight). What’s more, many could have been housed in groups, which would have further reduced the required space.

Plenty of room for 16,000 animals! If they were in pairs, that’s only 8,000 species (or “kinds”). Also, the author doesn’t mention plants. But let’s not interrupt with trivial objections. We continue:

It is still necessary to take account of the floor spaces required by large animals, such as elephants and rhinos. But even these, collectively, do not require a large area because it is most likely that these animals were young, but not newborns. Even the largest dinosaurs were relatively small when only a few years old.

Those baby dinosaurs must have been cute! Here’s more:

Dinosaurs could have eaten basically the same foods as the other animals. The large sauropods could have eaten compressed hay, other dried plant material, seeds and grains, and the like. Carnivorous dinosaurs—if any were meat-eaters before the Flood—could have eaten dried meat, reconstituted dried meat, or slaughtered animals. Giant tortoises would have been ideal to use as food in this regard. They were large and needed little food to be maintained themselves.

He’s got it all figured out. No problems! Moving along:

Studies of nonmechanized animal care indicate that eight people could have fed and watered 16,000 creatures. The key is to avoid unnecessary walking around. As the old adage says, “Don’t work harder, work smarter.”

Therefore, Noah probably stored the food and water near each animal. Even better, drinking water could have been piped into troughs, just as the Chinese have used bamboo pipes for this purpose for thousands of years. The use of some sort of self-feeders, as is commonly done for birds, would have been relatively easy and probably essential.

Noah’s family were so well organized they probably had lots of leisure time. Another excerpt:

As much as 12 U.S. tons (11 m. tons) of animal waste may have been produced daily. The key to keeping the enclosures clean was to avoid the need for Noah and his family to do the work. The right systems could also prevent the need to change animal bedding. Noah could have accomplished this in several ways. One possibility would be to allow the waste to accumulate below the animals, much as we see in modern pet shops. In this regard, there could have been slatted floors, and animals could have trampled their waste into the pits below. Small animals, such as birds, could have multiple levels in their enclosures, and waste could have simply accumulated at the bottom of each.

[...]

Alternatively, sloped floors would have allowed the waste to flow into large central gutters. Noah’s family could have then dumped this overboard without an excessive expenditure of manpower.

Yes, but we wonder if Mrs. Noah complained when it was her turn to sweep the gutters. We’ll never know. On with the article:

The problem of manure odor may, at first thought, seem insurmountable. But we must remember that, throughout most of human history, humans lived together with their farm animals. Barns, separate from human living quarters, are a relatively recent development.

That’s enough to get you to click over to AIG to read it all. The author also has some interesting diagrams showing the layout of the Ark. He’s put a lot of work into this.

Darwin’s in big trouble now!

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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