Friday, December 22, 2006

Textbook Stickers: pathetic bookends

News that Cobb County case had been settled, and that the textbook stickers are a thing of the past, made me think of a closing parenthesis. In my mind, and admittedly not in strict concurrence with the actual timeline, the placement of the stickers was the shot across the bow from the Political-Activist Intelligent Design (PAID) movement, and the settlement of the case is the tippy-top of the PAID movement mast disappearing beneath the surface. (Those aren't mixed metaphors, are they? I can't tell.)

I don't have much new to say about the PAID movement. But I thought I would try to restate some old criticisms in graphical form. I'm not sure if the plot succeeds at making my three recurring PAID movement themes: 1) it backfired, big-time 2) it created a cottage industry complete with a cult-like following and a leader with delusions, it would seem, of becoming the White House Science Advisor 3) it was deceptive—it really is about religion—which makes its ends-justify-the-means methods all the more inexcusable.

In no particular order, here are the explantions for each curve:

The general level of antagonism of every-day working atheist scientists toward every-day working believing scientists. Polarization and suspicion are on the rise, while interesting and friendly lunchroom faith/science discussions among collaborators are becoming an anachronism.

A cumulative plot of the sum C + A + I where C is the number of unbelievers converted upon reading a textbook sticker, A is the number of believers who apostatized because their textbook lacked a sticker, and I is the number of students in high school who didn't know, prior to reading the sticker, that there was some sort of controversy.

The monthly rate of peer-reviewed papers that were at least partially inspired by the idea that there is an intelligent designer. This is basically a) substantial and b) constant because there are many believing scientists who see God's fingerprint in the no-reason-to-expect comprehensibility and obvious beauty found in science—although they don't think it's proper or important to demand the right to say so in peer-reviewed science journals.

A cumulative plot of the sum P + E + D, where P is the number of published theoretical predictions of the form: consider the measurable quantity M. ID predicts it will be this, while standard theory predicts that. E is the number of conducted/proposed laboratory experiments to test those predictions. And D is the number of biological systems that have been, through the application of advanced information theory, shown to be designed. This sum excludes predictions of the form: I double dare-you to explain [fill in the blank] or I bet a bottle of single malt scotch that you can't show this happening in your lab.

ID in the science classroom and public schools. Before the PAID movement attempted to have teaching the controversy essentially mandated, many classes actually did, in fact, teach the controversy, in the form of rabbit-trail discussions. Of course, the PAID movement had more ambitious goals of placing ID in the science curriculum. Having lost that fight, they now seem to have settled on, well, teaching the controversy. Which is where we were, in an unofficial sense, before the advent of the PAID movement. Alas, the well is now poisoned, and what's gone is gone.

The gravitas and audience size afforded to militant atheists. Example: We are now in a situation where a blog that a) is about science only 20% of the time (based on a recent survey) b) never about the author's original science (how could it be?) c) commits unthinkable faux pas such as getting into protracted scientific debates with a cartoonist and misidentifying a Christian parody article as real (think of the Chinese government whining about an article from the Onion—and then realize that their mistake is, by comparison, understandable) d) denigrates accomplished scientists with orders-of-magnitude more scientific output solely because they aren't militant atheists—can be named the science blog of the year! This never would have happened prior to the PAID movement, even if blogs then existed.

This curve represents the enumeration of embarrassing and revealing documents and statements from the PAID movement. It includes the Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook which, you would think, would make it difficult to argue that it is not their intention to get ID into the science curriculum. And then there is the Wedge Document, which was supposed to be kept as secret as Freemason rites, rarely a seemly method for Christians to employ. It describes a comprehensive political agenda and has, as its governing goals a) To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies and b) To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God. Now whether these goals are admirable is not the point—the point is that at the same time the PAID movement was stating publicly that it's about science, not religion, and that the designer could be, well, any sufficiently advanced being—it really doesn’t matter. Then we have the Vice Strategy, which while at least having the virtue of being unintentionally funny, also belies the "it's science" mantra. Oh, toss in a PAID movement leader bragging about taking a stroll down the road to have a chat with the President. Finally (but not exhaustively) we have, on one of the premier PAID movement websites (and a companion site), a flash animation of Judge Jones as a puppet complete with flatulence sound effects and a chipmunk voice provided by the web site's proprietor (If the sound effects are absent, don't worry, the self-same PAID movement leader has given assurances that they'll be back in the next version, better than ever, and that flatulence is a sophisticated, post-modern rhetorical device. It's all about the science.) The accompanying edifying comments included assertions that Jones was bought and paid for by the ACLU and a limerick suggesting he was involved in unnatural acts with lawyers from the ACLU. Come to think of it, this curve, to be accurately represented, requires a semi-log plot.

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