Tuesday, June 14, 2005

All Hail the Conquering Hero

Over on Panda's Thumb, facts and science are often sacrificed for political expediency. This was evident in a recent post heralding a new anti-ID recruit, Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy Blog.

There is some urgency in the welcoming of this new warrior for truth. It appears that ID (Intelligent Design) is about to expand its propaganda machine into new domains. It has set its sights on physics and astronomy, opening new fronts in the war with its traditional enemy, evolution.

This revelation comes as a surprise to many of us. I first heard ID arguments relating to the special properties of water, the inverse square law of gravitation, the big-bang, and the relative strengths of the fundamental forces back in the early eighties, well before Behe introduced his idea of irreducible complexity (and before I was a Christian). The folks at Panda's Thumb must have missed all that. P.Z. Myers wrote:

The Privileged Planet debacle is a sign that the anti-evolutionists are eager to pollute national science institutions and all scientific disciplines with their garbage, and more and more scientists are going to be speaking out harshly against them.

Perhaps these scientists will be among those who will be shocked to learn that there is a nascent push to extend ID to physics and astronomy.

Not to worry, The Bad Astronomer will save the day. According to Myers, Phil Plait

[is] alerted to the bad physics, astronomy, and cosmology of the Discovery Institute, and plans to spend more effort fighting the distortions of the creationists.

Commenters on Panda's Thumb agreed that the threat is imminent. Expectations for a swift and decisive victory are running high. One wrote:

I’ve always wondered why the IDiotists and creationists did not go after other scientific fields. Took them long enough.

Another wrote:

I think it’s great that more scientists in disciplines other than biology are waking up to ID’s far-reaching anti-scientific goals, but they should be aware that these guys are not all YEC’s, and those who are not last generation’s Bible-waving YEC’s.

That last comment displays good but incomplete insight. Indeed, not only are cosmological IDers not YECs (Young Earth Creationists), but cosmological ID is routinely attacked by YECs.

Another commenter, arguing from convenient anecdote (a favorite method over at PT) wrote of his concurrence that there exists a clear and present danger:

only about twenty minutes ago, on my way home from work, I pulled up behind a B(ig)A(ss)P(ickup)T(ruck)ist with the gun rack in the back window and the ‘coon dogs sitting in the bed, their tongues hangin’ in the breeze. On the back window was a big yellow bumper sticker that said, simply, EVOLUTION-THE BIG LIE.

If you want "true-life" stories about white-suited (double breasted) parsons preaching against "evilution" at school board meetings, or warning about mixing of the races, or justifying slavery via scripture, why it seems that quite a few visitors to PT have had an encounter with such an entity from central casting, and it drove them away from Christianity at an early age. They'll be happy to tell you about it.

Another warns, ominously,

No it’s not. It’s a struggle over political power and who gets to weild it. It’s a fight, literally, between democracy and theocracy.

And the sooner scientists realize that, the sooner we can beat the fundies. If we continue to view this as a scholarly science debate, the the fundies will kick our collective asses.

The piped piper of sorts for this bunch, P.Z. Myers, added, in response to a misguided pacifist:

Please don’t try to tell me that you object to the tone of our complaints. Our only problem is that we aren’t martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

Encouraging their new recruit, we read (on Pharyngula):

Kickass. BA Phil is one of the few folks out there with the knowledge to wipe out stupid claims,

to which our hero Phil responded

Heehee. Thanks!

Let us take a gander at The Bad Astronomers first wartime post, entitled The Fort Sumter of Creationist Astronomy?.

Phil beings by praising his own prescience:

I have been saying for years that creationists would soon be turning their attention to sciences other than biology

Now that was not very hard to do, since for years creationists have paid attention to the other sciences.

What has precipitated this call to arms, this summoning of the Rambo of science? It was this statement from the Discovery Institute:

Although much of the public controversy over intelligent design has focused on the application of design to biology, it’s important to remember that design theory itself reaches well beyond biology, and that some of the strongest evidence for design comes from such fields as physics, astronomy, and cosmology.

Now that's incendiary.

Puh-leez. People like Hugh Ross (just to mention one) have been saying for years that the strongest evidence for design comes from cosmology. How can this be, as Phil called it, a shot across the bow?

Phil goes on to explain that if you take the bible literally, it contradicts everything we know about cosmology. There is some truth in that, but he needs to be precise. It is true that if you take the Genesis account literally, i.e., six twenty-four hour days, then you can not be reconciled with modern cosmology.

However, literality is not the acid test of evangelical Christianity. The important issue is inerrancy. Once inerrancy is accepted, one must still deal with the issue of a hermeneutic. One possible answer is to be as literal as possible—however no matter how literal of a hermeneutic one chooses, one can always be presented with passages that cannot be taken literally.

Another hermeneutic, equally respectful of biblical inerrancy but not literalist, leads to the day-age view, which Hugh Ross and Gleason Archer, in The Genesis Debate, describe. An overview of that view (which is that the Genesis account is chronologically correct but the days represent ages), mapped onto the creation account, gives
  1. Big-bang, creation of the universe (ten space-time dimensions, matter, energy, galaxies, stars, planets, etc.) by God’s Holy fiat.

  2. Singling out the earth for a series of creation miracles. At its beginning it is empty of life and unfit for life; the earth’s primordial atmosphere and the solar system’s interplanetary debris prevent the light from the sun, moon, and stars from reaching the surface. (End of day 1)

  3. Clearing of the interplanetary debris and partial clearing of the earth’s atmosphere so that light now penetrates to the surface of the ocean.

  4. Formation of tropospheric water vapor and a stable water cycle. (End of day 2)

  5. Formation of the continental land masses and the ocean basins.

  6. Creation of plants on the land masses. (End of day 3)

  7. Transformation of the atmosphere for perpetually translucent to occasionally transparent. For the first time, the sun moon and stars are visible on the surface as distinct objects. (End of day 4)

  8. Creation of swarms of small sea animals.

  9. Creation of sea mammals and birds. (End of day 5)

  10. Creation of three kinds of land mammals (1) short-legged land mammals (2) long legged mammals that are easy to tame and (3) long legged mammals that are difficult to tame (wild).

  11. Creation of man. (End of day 6)

This is not the only alternative to literality—one can imagine another day-age view that, for example, incorporates theistic evolution.

PT types want the choice to be between strict literalists, i.e., the YECs, and "enlightened" Christians who give up biblical inerrancy. They create a false dichotomy, zeroing out those who affirm inerrancy but not literality.

Phil goes on to rant about YECs. I have to admit about being confused. On the one hand, the Panda's Thumb and Phil are working themselves into a militaristic frenzy in preparation for waging war, in response to the so-called "shot across the bow" from the Discovery Institute, and then Phil goes off on YECs?

YECs have been battling evolution and cosmology since the nineteenth century. This is hardly a new war. Are rehashes of "tired light" refutations what we'll find on Phil's site? Hardly seems worth all the advance billing of a coming blood bath.

I am hoping that Phil will ignore the YECs and correct the bad science of the cosmological IDers like Hugh Ross (and myself.) Now that would be interesting.

Phil closes with

They may have fired the first shot, but we have plenty of ammo on our side as well. And we also have many, many scientists willing to accept this call to arms.

I’m one of them. Over the course of time, you’ll be seeing more rebuttals — no, debunking — of creationist claims here. I’ve had enough, and this threat is real. They want to turn our classrooms in a theocratically-controlled anti-science breeding ground, and I’m not going to sit by and watch it happen.

Dude! Let's get to it.

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