Monthly Archives: October 2008

John Freshwater Trial Update (31 Oct)

AS YOU KNOW, this hearing is to determine whether John Freshwater will be fired as an 8th-grade science teacher. He’s accused of burning a student, teaching religion in his science class, and failing to follow the district’s orders. Freshwater says the district wants to fire him because he refused to remove a Bible from his desk.

In today’s Columbus Dispatch we read: Second student says science teacher burned his arm. Excerpts, with bold added by us:

A second Mount Vernon student said his 8th grade science teacher burned a cross on his arm with an electrical device, but that he didn’t tell his parents or complain about the incident.

The evidence is piling up. More:

Simon [the student who testified that he too had been burned by Freshwater] recalled overhearing Freshwater and a group of students discussing religion in the classroom on a day he walked in to turn in an assignment.

Freshwater told them, “Catholics aren’t Christians,” [Simon] Souhrada testified.

Asked why that phrase stuck with him four years later, Souhrada replied, “because I’m Catholic.”

Now Freshwater’s attorney takes his turn:

Asked by Freshwater’s attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, if he was bothered by the comment, Souhrda replied, “I’m not all that easily offended.”

But the offense to Simon isn’t really the issue, is it? Continuing:

Paul Souhrada, Simon’s father, testified he “did not realize the extent of what was going on until I saw this handout,” about intelligent design. Paul Souhrada is an editor at The Dispatch.

It’s not smart to offend the press. Here’s more:

Richard Cunningham, chairman of the Mount Vernon High School science department, described the handout that Simon Souhrada brought home as “inflammatory in tone” and having “a very clear bias” toward intelligent design.

Things don’t look good for Freshwater. One more excerpt:

Just before a lunch break, Katie Beach, who teaches special needs children in the district, said she spent most of last year working with some students in Freshwater’s class. She said Freshwater advised students to refer to their Bible for additional science research and told them the Big Bang theory couldn’t explain how such a complex world could exist.

If this stuff is true, Mr. Freshwater will be lucky to get a janitor’s job with the public school system. But there’s always private school. There, perhaps he can “teach the controversy.”

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Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin, and the Pope

SOME DENOMINATIONS reject evolution, while others embrace it. In ANSA, a major news agency in Italy, we read Vatican kicks off creation powwow. Excerpts, with bold added by us:

The Catholic Church’s stance on the creation of the universe is not incompatible with empirical science, Pope Benedict XVI said Friday.

”Saying that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments are the fruit of the Creator is not saying that creation is only about the beginning of the history of the world and of life,” he told participants at the start of a five-day conference on evolution being held by the Pontifical Academy of Science.

We’ve reported earlier on Pope Benedict’s 2007 Statement on Evolution. Continuing with the ANSA article:

Pontifical Science Academy President Nicola Cabibbo said Friday that the Vatican conference will concentrate more on ”the evolutionary process than on the transcendental origin of living beings or the creation of the world” over the next five days, although he admitted these themes would be indirectly touched upon.

Most impressive. In fact:

The conference is the latest initiative in the Vatican’s drive to promote dialogue between scientists and theologians.

In September it announced a new interdisciplinary conference to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species that will take place in Rome in March next year, while Pontifical Council for Culture President Gianfranco Ravasi reiterated that evolutionary theory was ”not incompatible” with the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Bible.

The article also mentions that:

World famous physicist Stephen Hawking is among speakers invited to the Vatican for the event.

We found another article on that. In the Times of London we read Stephen Hawking to address Vatican conference on evolution. A few excerpts:

Stephen Hawking, the cosmologist and author of the bestselling A Brief History of Time, is to take part today in a conference at the Vatican on Darwin, evolution and intelligent design.

We look forward to a transcript. Here’s a bit more:

The Catholic Church accepts evolution, but sees it as part of the divine plan. Pope Benedict has been described as a “theistic evolutionist” who believes that God created life through evolution, and thus that there is no inherent clash between religion and science.

The Catholic Church does not take the Genesis story that God created the world in six days literally, regarding it instead as an allegory. However some Christians – not least in the United States – do take the Genesis account literally and object to evolution being taught in school.

That pretty much sums it up. One more excerpt:

Cardinal Paul Poupard, Monsignor Ravasi’s predecessor as head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said that Genesis and Darwin’s theory of evolution were “perfectly compatible” if the Bible was read “correctly”. The real message of Genesis was that “the universe didn’t make itself and had a creator” he said.

This is a good article. It’s worth reading in its entirety.

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Creationists: Ignorant, Stupid, Insane, or Wicked

IF YOU do a Google search on the phrase “ignorant, stupid or insane” you’ll get over 2,500 hits [update: now almost 200,000 hits]. That’s because Richard Dawkins famously wrote, with bold added by us:

To claim equal time for creation science in biology classes is about as sensible as to claim equal time for the flat-earth theory in astronomy classes. Or, as someone has pointed out, you might as well claim equal time in sex education classes for the stork theory. It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

If that gives you offense, I’m sorry. You are probably not stupid, insane or wicked; and ignorance is no crime …

Source: Richard Dawkins Review of “Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution” — The “Ignorant, Stupid, Insane, Wicked” Comment in Context

Seven years after writing that celebrated description, Dawkins expanded upon it at his own website: Ignorance is No Crime. Excerpts, with bold added by us:

“It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” I first wrote that in a book review in the New York Times in 1989, and it has been much quoted against me ever since, as evidence of my arrogance and intolerance. Of course it sounds arrogant, but undisguised clarity is easily mistaken for arrogance. Examine the statement carefully and it turns out to be moderate, almost self-evidently true.

Many adjectives have been associated with Dawkins, but “modest” isn’t one of them. He continues:

I originally listed ‘wicked’ as one of my possibilities, only for completeness. I have never been sure whether there truly are intelligent, knowledgeable and sane people who feign disbelief in evolution for ulterior motives. Perhaps a political candidate needs some such dissimulation in order to get elected in certain States. If so, it is sad but possibly not much more reprehensible than the proverbial kissing of babies. Not deeply wicked.

Dawkins then gives a few examples of obviously disingenuous conduct by creationists, which he tactfully declines to label as wickedness; and then he says this:

I don’t withdraw a word of my initial statement. But I do now think it may have been incomplete. There is perhaps a fifth category, which may belong under ‘insane’ but which can be more sympathetically characterised by a word like tormented, bullied or brainwashed. Sincere people who are not ignorant, not stupid and not wicked, can be cruelly torn, almost in two, between the massive evidence of science on the one hand, and their understanding (or misunderstanding) of what their holy book tells them on the other. I think this is one of the truly bad things religion can do to a human mind. There is wickedness here, but it is the wickedness of the institution and what it does to a believing victim, not wickedness on the part of the victim himself.

That’s Dawkins’ thinking on the subject, which has permanently entered into the dialogue about creationism. It’s foolish to think that we can improve upon the terminology of an Oxford professor, but everyone else seems to give it a try. Perhaps it’s because creationists are subjects of gruesome fascination, like flat-earthers and moon-landing deniers. We can’t avoid it — we find ourselves strangely intrigued by such intellectual train-wrecks. Therefore, we won’t resist the impulse to offer our own thoughts, but where we differ from Dawkins is mostly in our choice of words.

But first, bear in mind that there’s a big difference between someone: (a) who believes in a creator; and (b) who also believes in creationism. The former doesn’t concern us; the latter is a “creationist,” who insists on beliefs that are contradicted by readily observable evidence, and who also denies tested, well-supported scientific conclusions. A creationist will put himself through the most amazing mental contortions in order to maintain his belief system.

Your Curmudgeon attributes belief in creationism — including creation “science” and intelligent design “theory” — to the fact that a creationist is either one or a combination of the following:

1. an ignoramus, possibly due to home schooling, no schooling, etc. This is Dawkins’ first category — “ignorant” (in which we include the misinformed), but we find Dawkins’ word insufficient. Ignorance does not imply militant rejectionism, only a lack of information. Like Dawkins, we believe that ignorance is a curable condition. Indeed, we all began our lives in ignorance, and regardless of our intelligence and education, there are many subjects of which we know little, if anything, and about which we rightly say “I don’t know.” But if an uneducated or misinformed person insists — notwithstanding his ignorance — that he knows what he’s talking about, and he goes around babbling that all the experts are wrong, then he’s an ignoramus.

2. a simpleton, perhaps a retardate or some other type of mental defective. This is Dawkins’ second category — “stupid.” Our word is less pejorative than his, because we see no need to do more than describe their condition. There’s not much that can be done about this group.

3. a fanatic, a term which includes those who are demented, deranged, or possessed, such conditions being likely due to an authoritarian political ideology, intensely brutal religious indoctrination, or some other tenacious meme infection. This is Dawkins’ third category — “insane,” and we think it also includes his later fifth category — “tormented.” Within this group are those who disrupt internet forums, insist on teaching creationism in schools, and — if given the opportunity — would burn books, torture heretics, kill witches, and fly planes into buildings.

4. a charlatan, a self-explanatory term which includes Dawkins’ fourth category — “wicked,” but it’s slightly less moralistic, thus easier to apply without the hesitation Dawkins exhibits with “wicked.” Many of those who make a living writing and lecturing about creationism fall into this category — at least that’s our suspicion. They’re relatively harmless, except for their influence on the other categories.

So there it is — the Curmudgeon’s manifesto: A creationist is either an ignoramus, a simpleton, a fanatic, a charlatan, or some combination thereof.

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Sarah Palin: Looks More Important than Creationism?

WE HAVEN’T posted lately about Sarah Palin’s creationism. Our view is that it’s been exposed as a phony issue. Whatever Sarah believes, she’s done nothing to insert religion into the schools of Alaska, and has given no indication of intending to do so. Nevertheless, the issue survives and is endlessly repeated by journalists who should — and probably do — know better.

Here we have a new spin on this worthless old topic. Newsweek has an article by Sharon Begley, a science writer: Election 2008: How Much Do Looks Count?

Excerpts, with bold added by us:

Say what you will about Sarah Palin’s experience, competence and views on (to pick just two of Lab Notes’ favorites) creationism and climate change, give her this: she’s got that whole beauty queen thing going for her. Roll your eyes if you must, but in a finding that will further depress anyone who still thinks that voters are rational scientists, for female pols, looks really, really matter.

That’s what this Newsweek article is all about. Palin’s looks are the only thing that really matters. By the way, in case you missed our earlier reports that the creationism issue is bogus, see:

More from Newsweek:

According to a new study, to win the votes of men as well as women, female political candidates need to be seen as attractive. “Even female voters seemed to tap into the cultural expectation that women who are attractive as well as competent are more worthy of high status roles,” said psychology researcher Joan Y. Chiao of Northwestern University, who led the study, which is being published tomorrow in the online journal PLoS One.

One more excerpt:

The scientists put it this way in their conclusion: “Good looks was almost all that mattered in predicting men’s votes for female candidates.

[Our related articles are here: Sarah Palin & Creationism.]

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