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Northstate Science



A source of reason and logic in a world increasingly hostile to both.



Updated: 2017-11-23T06:50:59.589-08:00

 



Northstate Science Moving - Grand Opening February 6!

2008-02-01T20:50:21.779-08:00

After a significant absence from blogging (which I will explain later) Northstate Science will be coming back. Visit the new location of Northstate Science at Wordpress on February 6



Atheists For The Second Amendment?

2007-11-27T21:06:45.416-08:00

There has been much rancor, as is usually the case, over the Supreme Court's decision to hear arguments regarding the Second Amendment. I have a confession to make to all my liberal activist buddies out there in the blogosphere:

I am a lifetime member of of the National Rifle Association. (There...I said it....I feel so much better!)...

Now, in all honesty, I have not received any material from them (including the monthly issue of the American Rifleman) for more than a decade now. (I got really annoyed with the NRA when they started referring to ATF agents as "jack-booted thugs" during the whole David Koresh thing at Waco in the early 1990s and quit sending in "change of address" notifications whenever we would move. I had just joined the federal service at that time and was not amused with the whole anti-government crowd - they always struck me as bunch of cry babies who thought the rules of a civilized society didn't apply to them. By the way, and for the record: David Koresh was a coward and that bastard should have burned - the full extent of his cowardice was revealed when he took innocents along with him).

My general indifference to being a member of the NRA not withstanding, I still support the concept of the Second Amendment. I believe there is social value in a citizenry that remains mostly armed - it does give governments pause; and I believe it is one of the few things that keeps our form of government uniquely different from others around the world. I think most of the objections to personal ownership of firearms stem from unfamiliarity with dangerous weapons. I grew up with firearms of all kinds and am as comfortable with them as I am with a knife and fork around my Thanksgiving turkey. I made the Expert rating in rifle competition and just missed the Distinguished Expert medal (my college career interrupted my competitive rifle shooting). (So, in reference to my correctional officer debating partner: I have all those skills plus a doctorate...think about that for a moment!). In effect, I am generally in favor of the armed citizen (note: not just the hunting citizen) and am hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of a personal right to own and bear arms (yes, I am also in favor of concealed weapons permits).

Of course, what this means is that I buy into the argument that armed citizens are a deterrent to all kinds of tyranny. The problem is that most members of the NRA probably consider tyranny in the context of "liberal" efforts to regulate the population. Personally, I am more concerned with the potential for tyranny of conservative ideas....more specifically, theological based tyranny. We already seem to have an infestation of Christian soldiers in the military whose allegiance is to mythological beings and not the US constitution. I would suggest that such people might ultimately pose a threat to civil liberties.

I certainly understand the arguments in favor of gun control, but as I have always proposed, let's not limit someone else's freedoms simply because we don't personally agree with it. Instead, use that freedom to your own benefit. Imagine the response if atheists suddenly joined the NRA in droves. Imagine if Muslims, Buddhists and Wiccans joined shooting clubs. And for something really scary:

Imagine if PZ were not just eloquent, educated, atheistic, and outspoken....but also armed!

Of course it will probably never happen, but gee, wouldn't that get the NRA's panties in a twist? Of course I can hear the arguments now: "The Second Amendment was never intended to apply to atheists"....



Moral Objections To Medical Treatment

2007-11-27T20:03:26.924-08:00

CNN has been reporting on doctors who refuse treatments based on moral grounds. This is theocracy, pure and simple. A doctor who refuses a secularly legal treatment has placed his religious beliefs above those of the patent. In doing so, he/she has determined that religious belief trumps secular law. What are the limits of such an attitude? And what happens when Christian religious belief runs counter to another religious (or non-religious) moral imperative? If society accepts the principle that a doctor may refuse treatment on the basis of a religious belief, a personal, mental concept that cannot be verified by any accepted standard of inquiry, then does that society not take a large step in the direction of theocracy? It is very easy, and very simplistic, to consider this issue solely in terms of certain Christian sects who see contraception or abortion as moral issues, but consider every other medical procedure around the world associated with religious views. We chose not to have our child circumcised - I suppose that I should count my blessings that we did not have a fundamentalist Jewish doctor as our physician. After all, if a Catholic doctor can refuse to provide contraception based on a moral objection, why should a Jewish doctor not insist that his patioent's male children be circumcised, based on a moral imperative? Shall we talk about female circumcision? Should a "gay" gene ultimately be discovered will Christians start accepting (perhaps insist upon) abortion under "special religious circumstances"? Where does this lunacy end?

It ends with strict adherence to secular laws. If it is legal, you have an obligation to perform that action for someone else who insists upon it and your personal religious views be damned. If you can't stomach it, then get another job, you coward! If your religious viewpoint means that much to you then take a cut in pay and do something more menial and less lucrative, and quit protecting your outrageously inflated salary under the guise of a moral objection!



Exploring Our Matrix - And Why Intelligent Design Forced Me To Leave The Church

2007-11-16T08:55:51.194-08:00

Dr. James F. McGrath left a comment on my previous post regarding the recent PBS series Judgement Day. Be sure to read several posts McGrath has on the series. But more importantly...

...visit Exploring Our Matrix and read Dr. McGrath's insightful posts on things scientific and theological.

Consider, for example, the questions he poses to the ID Advertising Team (Denyse O'Leary, Philip Johnson and Casey Luskin):

In the same way, people like you cause more people to lose their faith (or to not come to faith) than any Darwinian biologist ever could. You tell people evolution is nonsense and present it as incompatible with faith, and some people who don't know any better actually believe you. Then when eventually the mountain of evidence finally gets their attention, they lose their faith, because people like you told them that was the only other option.

Do you fear God? If so, do you think you will not be held accountable for putting unnecessary stumbling blocks in the way of the faithful and those who could believe if it weren't for people like you driving them away from God? [emphasis added].

Dr. McGrath's point is well taken - largely because I am a perfect example of what he is discussing. I remember the day the nuns at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Paradise, California allowed a number of us 6th graders to develop a class lesson on any subject of interest to us and were given time to "teach" the rest of the class. My lesson was on paleontology (using Romer's Vertebrate Paleontology as a main source, if I remember correctly) and made no apologies for liberally invoking evolution. The kids, and the nuns, loved it. The concept of evolution was never a problem for Catholics during my childhood - the pursuit of science was actively encouraged by the nuns and during high school, my biology teacher and mentor (and agnostic) used to comment that his best science students came from the Catholic school. Fast forward 30 some years and we have Catholics Behe and O'Leary spreading misinformation about science and telling students they can't accept evolution and have faith; Cardinal Schonborn telling lies about evolutionary theory; most of my fellow Knights of Columbus couldn't give you a single fact about evolutionary biology but are convinced intelligent design is science; even a significant number of my relatives have been fed enough false information through the church that they now ask me if it's true that all animals appeared suddenly during the Cambrian or that scientists have abandoned radiocarbon dating.

The propaganda from the church and the gullibility of the flock got to be too much. If I have to go against the evidence and believe that Darwin was completely wrong or abandon the Catholic faith, well....the faith just became meaningless. And this didn't end with me....the Catholic church asked my wife and my kids to sacrifice too much in intellectual integrity to make it worthwhile to remain.

So we all left.

O'Leary, Luskin, Johnson and Behe are so interested in protecting their own version of faith that they cannot even comprehend the impact they're having on the church. It's no wonder young people have developed such a negative view of Christianity.



O'Reilly Needs Holiday Cheer

2007-11-14T06:57:26.092-08:00

Ok, we all know that Bill O'Reilly is resurrecting the War on Christmas issue again, and we can be assured of more false alarms and spin on the examples he will be presenting on his TV and radio shows.

So.....I suggest we all take note of his efforst and send Darwin Christmas Cards to Bill, wishing him a Happy Holiday season of his choosing...nothing provocative in the written messages, just warm wishes to him and everyone else at FOX.



PBS Special Follow-Up

2007-11-14T06:28:09.818-08:00

I caught the late night showing of PBS's NOVA special, Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial in my hotel room last night. Both PZ and Greg Laden have "liveblogging" comments on the special that are worth looking through.

Lassen County teachers will find lots of good source material on evolution and the fallacies behind intelligent design at the PBS/NOVA website. If you haven't had a chance to see it, Judgement Day will be shown online on November 16. Lassen County school board member should watch this special as well - it's a good lesson on overstepping bounds in science education.

I thought the special provided a great perspective on the strong explanatory power that evolution has as a scientific idea, the clear weakness of intelligent design at explaining anything, and more importantly, just how fallacious both the school board and the ID "scientists" were at presenting ID as an appropriate challenge to evolution.

I was somewhat disappointed in the recreation of Scott Minnich's testimony and cross-examination. It ended with him apparently making a sound point on testing ID versus evolutionary theory that could seemed to have stumped the plaintiffs. The original transcripts of the cross examination are quite different, and suggest a man doing some serious backpeddaling when confronted with the question of whether ID is actually testable.

I found board member Buckingham's response to Judge Jones' decision infuriating. This is a man who came a breadth's hair away from being tried for perjury during the trial and yet he as the hutzpah to lay into the judge for being an "activist". Buckingham should thank his lucky stars that Judge Jones exhibited a far greater show of Christian restraint than the original Dover school board could.



Lassen County Educators: PBS Special Tonight

2007-11-13T17:06:45.328-08:00

Lassen County science educators should not miss PBS's NOVA special tonight, Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, which documents (as a recent review in Nature put it) the "feebleness of the intelligent design case" during the Dover trial. The Nature review further suggests,

Judgment Day gracefully avoids ridiculing intelligent design for the pseudo-intellectual fundamentalist fig-leaf that it is, by simply showing how the protagonists shot themselves in the foot.

I only now got around to reading the review, however, that last statement was particularly telling in light of the current misinformation floating around at the pro-ID website Evolution News and Views. A recent post by Robert Crowther suggests that the PBS special is engaged in some myth-making, but as usual, when EN&V says the sun is shining, you had better glance out the window (you'll usually discover it is actually night). In reference to Crowther's Myth #2, citing Scott Minnich as having conducted tests to show the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex, I went to the original transcripts of Minnich's testimony and cross examination at the Dover trial via the Talkorigins.org Dover files. Needless to say, Crowther's cocky assertions about the nature of Minnich's research demonstrating intelligent design were shredded at the Dover trial when Minnich was forced to admit that no actual tests of irreducible complexity had ever been conducted by either himself or Behe. Neither is there any actual mythology behind the other supposed "myths" that EN&V accuses PBS of fronting. It's all just good old fashioned data gathering and presentation - something the ID crowd can't seem to accomplish. Crowther, in good advertising fashion, is repeating old arguments from ID advocates that have been shown to be the smoke and mirrors they are in the hopes of getting the public to be suspicious of the PBS special tonight.

Hopefully, Lassen County educators will ignore the pro-ID advertising at the EN&V and watch the PBS special. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about this issue in the area after the first of the year. In February, the pro-ID movie Expelled will hit theatres, including no doubt, our own here in Susanville. I am sure the Lassen County Times will weigh in on this issue then as well.

Never fear...Northstate Science will be prepared....



Yeah, Baby! Come To Papa!

2008-12-09T07:00:03.164-08:00

(image)
Yes, my providers of that morning salvation in a paper cup, Susanville Starbucks, has re-opened its doors after re-modeling (which, on the face of it, didn't seem to change things all that much). But man, what a difference a Venti brewed coffe makes in the morning. I expect my blogging to pick back up now....



Some Good News For The Hadzabe...Hopefully

2007-11-09T04:21:17.757-08:00

I had a head's-up on this a couple of days ago via friends in Tanzania but I couldn't confirm the story. However, it now appears that Survival International is reporting that the UAE has withdrawn a deal with the Tanzanian government to secure hunting rights in Hadzabe lands. The original deal would have effectively kicked the Hadzabe out of their lands and forcefully ended their traditional way of life. From the Survival International piece:The withdrawal is a great victory for the Hadza, a small tribe of hunter-gatherers who live in northwest Tanzania. A Hadza representative said today, ‘If it is true that the Arabs are leaving our land then I am very, very happy.’I know many indigenous rights organizations and several organizations and individuals in Europe who contacted me on this issue were deeply involved and were able to bring world opinion to bear on this injustice. However, there can be no doubt that those of you in the blogosphere who frequently reported on the plight of the Hadza gave this the steam necessary to be noticed by the larger organizations. You should all pat yourself on the back for your efforts!!This is indeed a great day for the Hadza...however, I have to remain just "optimistic" rather than downright overjoyed (sorry, I've been working too long in federal government where overly optimistic publicity often precedes an actual decision). If my unconfirmed email statement from the UAE safari company is correct, they are none too pleased:The Eshkesh Safari Company has surrendered the rights it had secured in 2006 to manage and sustainably utilise the Yaeda Chini/ Lake Eyasha region for hunting...a commercially motivated misrepresentation of the company's intentions and activities has been continuously perpetuated by certain interest groups. This has regretfully caused us to review the long term sutsainability of our planned program in the entire region resulting in our reluctant withdrawal.Of course, they use all the appropriate buzzwords regarding their operation ("sustainable", "manage") and accusingly invoke some kind of "special interest" conspiracy on the part of those who stood up for Hadzabe rights. And there's the usual hand-wringing over how the poor people of the area are now going to suffer because the company can't bring hunters into the area:This decision was taken with great reluctance as the withdrawal meant ending numerous human welfare, and wildlife sustainability programs that had been created and initiated following extensive and ongoing consultation with all villages - including Hadzabe representatives - in the region. The Eshkesh Safari Company had commenced extensive regeneration and wildlife protection programs in order to revive the areas wildlife that has been heavily depleted by poachers. The intention was not to initiate hunting trips in the region for several years in order to return animal stocks to sustainable levels.Their efforts at restoring game populations may indeed be the case but I find it exceedingly disingenuous that these arguments are coming out now...they certainly weren't being discussed when all this first came to light. Further, given a friend's inside perspective on how the UAE operates in general, I remain highly doubtful that the original intent of the deal was anything more than what it seemed to all of us: a safari "playground" for rich UAE princes.Again, I have not confirmed the source of this email but I suspect it to be a valid statement from the company. There is one further issue still outstanding that tempers my joy at the news. Apparently several of the Hadzabe are still under arrest for daring to protest the original deal. I am hoping to provide positive news on that front sometime soon, but we'll still have to wait and see...[...]



Four Stone Hearth Newest Edition

2007-11-09T03:41:43.562-08:00

The newest edition of Four Stone Hearth is up at Sorting Out Science. Check out this month's great collection of anthropology blog posts.



Lassen County Times in Review Oct 30 Edition

2007-11-04T08:37:24.059-08:00

It has been some time since I have felt compelled to respond to anything printed in the Lassen County Times. The news has largely stuck with, well, news and the editorials have, at most, remained….quaint. There are times when I miss the conservative elitism sometimes expressed by the paper’s staff – public argument is always a good thing, and I certainly enjoy engaging in it. But the nature of fundamentalist approaches to life is to take them underground when they are challenged consistently, so I suspect it may be some time before the editorial staff sticks too much of a foot in their collective mouths again.

In the meantime, however, we have the usual cast of local letter writers. Bill Ashmore continues the tired and data-less hypothesis that God is responsible for everything significant that happens or does not happen – this time in regards to global warming. (Yes, this is the same Ashmore whose pontification about gays, abortions and the frequency of earthquakes failed every empirical test you could throw at it…and then failed some more). Ashmore of course, gets the details wrong and like all good creationists, penalizes science for its past mistakes (without acknowledging that science is self-correcting); he uses the poor predictions of science 100 years ago as a proxy for the standards of scientific inquiry today; and he conflates media stories with what the scientists themselves actually say. Pretty much standard fare for a fundamentalist.

So the straw man has been constructed and knocked down: according to Ashmore, scientists can provide no data on global warming. The alternative for all of us?....wait for it….God controls the weather! Yep, forget all this debate about science, just trust in the religious intuitions of a handful of men like Ashmore and we’ll all be just fine. No need to actually work at understanding the world around us; no need to derive any conclusions from any physical pattern we see (they are all wrong anyway)…from Ashmore’s viewpoint there’s probably no need for any education. We’ll just sit around the fire with Bill telling us what we need to know and teaching us how to read goat entrails to prophesize the Second Coming.

Men (and women) like Bill Ashmore prove Harris and Hitchens correct every time they open their mouths or set their primitive thoughts to pen: religion poses an inherent threat to human survival and ultimately, “spoils everything”. He simply does not understand that religious approaches to physical world suffer horribly from inconsistency and have not advanced our knowledge of the world around us for more than 30,000 years – ever since anatomically modern humans started to acknowledge their ideological thinking by painting on cave walls. Every advancement of modern society has been made despite religious views, not because of them.

Sorry…but Jesus has nothing to do with it.



Vote For Duane!

2007-11-04T07:37:00.555-08:00

I just noticed that Duane at Abnormal Interests was nominated for a Weblog Award. Make sure you vote for Duane!

VOTE EARLY, VOTE OFTEN!!



Where Was Jesus?

2007-10-28T22:54:27.929-07:00

The World Series is over...and Jesus's team lost decisively. So, for all of you out there who are so quick to invoke the divine's name every time something significant happens - please explain to me why the Rockies lost? Could it be that Jesus really doesn't have anything to do with our personal successes or failures?



More Divine Intervention

2007-10-24T14:14:37.947-07:00

Yeah, you knew this was coming....

San Diego is actually on fire because of gays. It would appear that any dumbass with an catastrophic event, near-miss, or victory to explain can now invoke the Almighty with no fear of being shunned by society. It pains me to say this, but give me back the biblical version when God limited communication to burning bushes.

Look, people...this is why I cannot take a personal god seriously. If he/she/it isn't busy managing baseball teams to victory, then it's causing earthquakes in the U.S. because we allow both gays and abortions in this country.

Proponents of this kind of "God's wrath" nonsense can't answer the obvious questions that follow from such post hoc justifications: What if Boston wins the World Series? Why can't God summon anything bigger than a 5.5 magnitude earthquake on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade? If God is really upset with gays in San Diego, then why the hell did he fry a Presbyterian church?



The "Number One on Google" Meme

2007-10-24T13:51:54.138-07:00

I couldn't resist this one....

Via PZ (yes, I can't spell "pharyngula" either!) I see that World's Fair has proposed an interesting blog meme to see which words/phrases you plug into Google that result in your blog being the number one hit. The rules:

I'd like to suggest a meme, where the premise is that you will attempt to find 5 statements, which if you were to type into google (preferably google.com, but we'll take the other country specific ones if need be), you'll find that you are returned with your blog as the number one hit.

This takes a bit of effort since finding these statements takes a little trial and error, but I'm going to guess that this meme might yield some interesting insight on the blog in question.

To make it easier, we'll let you use a search statement enclosed in quotations - this is just to increase your chances of turning up as number one, but if you happen to have a website with the awesome traffic to command the same statement without quotations, then flaunt it baby! Of course, nnce you find your 5 statements, pass the meme on to others.

So, here are the results for Northstate Science:

1) Northstate Science (no need for quotes, but I was disappointed that for "Northstate" alone (even in quotes) I come up third;

The next three are probably too easy because of my local connections:

2) Susanville creationism

3) Lassen science

4) Lassen County archaeology

But my favorite has to be...

5) "meat for sex" (has to be in quotes, however (Google also asks me if I really mean "meet for sex"); I think I have Bora's femiphobia beat on this one....).



Further Thoughts On Cline and "Biblical" Archaeology

2007-10-24T06:57:12.257-07:00

I have been posting individual chapter reviews of Eric Cline’s book, From Eden to Exile, albeit at a snail’s pace. I have actually finished reading the book, enjoying Eric’s call to rescue the serious science of archaeology from the faux archaeologists claiming to have discovered Noah’s Ark and other bible mysteries. I am relieved that a professional archaeologist is finally arguing that much of what we hear of “biblical” archaeology in the media is driven by people with no professional standing in the field and that those with professional backgrounds must no longer sit on the sidelines. I will return to my ongoing review of Eric’s book in the days to come.In the meantime, I want to address Eric’s recent article in the Boston Globe. Eric was kind enough to send me a heads-up that it was coming and I eagerly read through the piece when it appeared. Although the article reiterated many of the central themes of his book, for some reason the Boston Globe piece highlighted an issue of concern I have regarding the nature of “biblical” archaeology that I think Eric is overlooking. Certainly the big media names like Cornuke and Jacobovici reach a large audience with their misleading (and frequently false) characterizations of the method, theory and data of archaeology. But move past the more popular purveyors of archaeological myth and we are left with a professional archaeology in the Middle East (at least that connected with biblical studies) that still flirts with an issue of credibility. This is not derived from the work conducted by professionals in the field of Syro-Palestinian archaeology – their academic publications and research still stand the test of peer review, so important to maintaining the scientific integrity of a field (by the way, something intelligent design advocates want to bypass). The professional credibility problem comes from other groups who frequently co-opt the professional archaeologist in disseminating public information on archaeology: the fundamentalist Christian organizations, ministers, pastors, and individuals who seem to descend on the Holy Land every year to participate in archaeological projects, only to return to the United States to inform an ill-educated audience how archaeology “proves the Bible”. Eric has mentioned concern with “overzealous biblical maximalists” and their tendency to invoke archaeological conclusions where there are no archaeological data for support. Unfortunately, I remain of the belief that 1) this is a significant problem adversely affecting the public perception of Syro-Palestinian archaeology; 2) it is a problem unique to Syro-Palestinian archaeology (as opposed to archaeological research conducted elsewhere) and is largely the result of this area’s historic ties to major religious texts; 3) professionals in the field of Syro-Palestinian archaeology are at least partially culpable; and 4) it is an issue largely ignored by professionals in the field.This is a subject I have discussed before, specifically with regard to creationist Carl Baugh’s visit to Lassen County and his false claim of professional credentials in the field. Individuals with a theological agenda, like Baugh, are using their experiences working on archaeological sites in the Middle East to legitimize their faux credentials in archaeology. Carl Baugh is not as famous as Bob Cornuke (and Eric was unfamiliar with the name when I relayed part of the story to him) but he gives hundreds of lectures each year and reaches a large audience. And there are many others who do the same. These individuals pose as much of a threat to the integrity of archaeology as Co[...]



Four Stone Hearth, First Edition, Second Year

2007-10-24T05:41:56.404-07:00

The First Edition for the second year (has it been a year already?) of Four Stone Hearth is up at The Primate Diaries. Eric has done a great job of pulling together a selection of anthropology blog posts. I would like to point out that Eric is a graduate of California State University, Chico, and is currently working on his doctorate at Duke...another northeastern California success story!



Rockies Don't Actually Have Talent...It Was All Jesus' Doing

2007-10-23T09:01:03.025-07:00

From PZ....

This is the kind of religious sophistry that just gets me frothing at the mouth...and why I don't (and can't) believe in a personal god. The implications of such statements are clearly beyond the intellectual capacity of your average baseball player - the general manager just admitted that the Rockies could not have won without divine intervention - so they must not be very good.

By contrast, Kathy Griffin's Emmy Award is based on pure human talent (and therefore actually deserved!).



Road Trip Through Northeastern California

2007-10-23T08:12:37.040-07:00

My apologies for not posting of late....

I just returned from a trip along California's Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. I am serving as part of team of agency representatives (Forest Service, National Parks, Fish and Wildlife, etc) and community organizations who are exploring interpretive opportunities along the byway. We're looking at the recreation and educational opportunities along the system, what needs to be improved, and what can be added. I can tell you there are a lot of undiscovered "gems" out there - the museum in Tulelake as an example - and a lot of potential additions. We are helping local communities make this area a destination for a wide variety of tourism.

And of course, I'll be helping to make sure the historical and natural history interpretations follow the best science available...



Want To Win A Prize?

2007-10-16T06:39:55.204-07:00

I'm following Eric's lead here....

Be one of the first five people to comment here and by the end of the calendar year I will send you a gift - a real, physical gift that you will receive in the mail (and I don't mean email).

The catch? You must make the same offer on your blog...

The contest begins now....



Why Atheists Are Angry

2007-10-16T06:03:22.607-07:00

Wow....Great post on why atheists are angry. I would only add that many people who do not consider themselves strict atheists - a significant number who maintain some kind of spirituality but do not accept the current manifestations of religion - are angry about the very same things. I am not surprised that atheist/agnostic/non-religious attitudes are gaining significant ground among the younger generations.



In Mourning....Temporarily Anyway

2007-10-14T04:23:04.866-07:00

Often we humans are forced to endure tragic events and most of the time we get through them in some way. Many would suggest that such events build character. If such is the case, my character is currently going through withdrawals....

The Susanville Starbucks has closed its doors...

What travesty the likes of which Shakespeare could not imagine! Starbucks has been my bastion of communal recognition; my retreat from the rigors of the every day world. Of late it has also been my source of inspiration - my daily routine has been to grab my Venti Coffee of the Day around 5:00 AM, find my usual corner table, set up my laptop and start blogging away. It was working pretty well, too - until my beloved coffee house closed last week (notice the lack of blog posts?).

Alas, it is only temporary - they are simply re-modeling and will open again on October 27...three weeks without a Venti coffee may seem like eons, however.



First Anniversary Edition of Four Stone Hearth Up at Remote Central

2007-10-13T08:24:59.276-07:00

Tim at Remote Central has the First Anniversary Edition of Four Stone Hearth up. I am glad this blog carnival is continuing, thanks to the efforts of a lot of good anthropologists out there.



Bad Analogies At Evolution News and Views

2007-10-02T19:05:23.967-07:00

How many times will Evolution News and Views writers re-cycle a poor analogy before everyone realizes they are not actually making the point they think they’re making? Michael Egnor again incorrectly uses archaeological science as an analogue with intelligent design. He just doesn’t get it.Archaeology is not, as Egnor mischaracterizes, a science about determining design:All of us discern design as a matter of daily life. It’s an essential expertise. For scientists — all scientists — it’s a particular expertise. For some scientists — forensic scientists, cryptographers, archaeologists — discernment of design is their science.What Egnor and other ID advocates fail to recognize is that archaeology does not assume design. This is a difficult concept to explain. In my archaeology class I show the students an “arrowhead” (better described as projectile points – most “arrowheads” are actually atlatl points – the bow and arrow was a relatively late development). Most students will recognize a projectile point as such, as would most ID advocates, and most will clearly infer a human designer. But then I ask, “How do you know that’s a projectile point?” In other words, how do we know what we know? Most students will say that they have seen similar items, read about such things in books or articles, or even tried to make one themselves. As we walk through this exercise, students begin to realize that their assumption of human design is correct, but what on the surface seems obvious is in fact built on a large body of previous knowledge. When I point out that artifacts of such “obvious design” today were once thought to be the products of thunder and lightning and not the result human manufacture, they are somewhat surprised. The knowledge of an “arrowhead” as the result of an intelligent design is dependent upon a history of research in archaeology, geology, ethnography and several other disciplines. It is also based on research specifically directed at the nature of the designer, and only secondarily the design itself (this is another area glossed over by ID advocates using archaeology as an analogy to intelligent design). It took a long time (and a significant amount of written argument) before such design could be attributed to human intelligence.Egnor and others perceive design without comprehending the research behind that assumption. They suggest an analogous design in nature without offering the same kind of solid research in support. Perhaps another analogy may work better than Egnor's:In the 1970s Erik van Daniken proposed that much of the monumental architecture we see in archaeological sites around the world (Giza, Titicaca, Palenque, etc.) could not have been constructed by indigenous groups in the area but must have resulted from extraterrestrial knowledge. Such buildings and monuments were so intricate and complex that some thought they could not possibly be constructed by humans but must have been engineered by visitors from other planets possessing far greater technological abilities. In other words, van Daniken argued that a significant portion of the world’s archaeology was the result of design by a higher intelligence. He was arguing, on the basis of his perception of complexity, that current proposed sources of such engineered feats were insufficient to account for that complexity and required intervention by beings with superior capabilities. His ideas[...]



Losing Your Academic Job For Challenging Religion?

2007-10-05T12:17:10.446-07:00

There seems to be a lot of this going around lately....While I originally noted the story of Professor Steve Bitterman from Iowa’s Southwestern Community College at Dispatches From The Culture Wars, Chris Heard has been following developments closely and provides some academic perspective on the situation. For those who are not familiar with the situation, the short story is that Bitterman was fired from his teaching position for stating in a Western Civilization class that portions of the Old Testament were not to be taken literally. The longer story is, as you might suspect, somewhat more complicated.Heard has reviewed the details to date, including a current news item in the Des Moines Register. The scenario appears to be one in which some students became upset after Bitterman challenged their long-held belief systems, complained to the administration (using the word “lawyer”) and the administration promptly fired the professor. Heard suggests there are two parallel issues here and I agree with that assessment. The first is whether Bitterman was insulting to the student during the course of the disagreement. I wholly agree with Heard that professors should take extraordinary efforts not to fall into the trap of engaging students uncivilly. (I also agree with Heard that more than once I have found it difficult not to bring the verbal hammer down on a disruptive student who has no idea what he or she is talking about). A reader responded to Heard’s take on the situation and had this to say:But I have noted that in other classes where the atmosphere was more laissez-faire, when fundamentalist students heard statements of fact that contradicted their beliefs, they became immediately belligerent, and even threatening. Not once, but every single time, without exception — to the point that I had to steer any such conversation away from class.While I agree with you that perhaps Bitterman should not have such an abrasive style, my own personal experience in these situations leads me to take the students’ complaints with a huge amount of skepticism.I agree with Heard that there are not enough details of the situation available to draw a confident conclusion regarding either the chain of events or the details of what actually transpired. However, Heard’s commenter touched on bit of familiarity for me regarding trying to teach fundamentalist Christian students about the real world. So I am going to do what I probably shouldn’t do at this point and draw some tentative conclusions:- Steve Bitterman was fired unfairly and the Southwestern Community College administration is expressing the same cowardly stance as that maintained by Olivet Nazarene University regarding Richard Colling. College and university administrations need to be very careful about “mucking” with what is being taught in the classroom. They are supposed to be hiring people on the basis of their professional background and expertise within a given field – once that’s done the administration should be exceedingly reluctant to interfere with or comment on information being taught in class;- The students complaining are probably not very bright. Or, at least they have no concept of what education is truly about and refuse to entertain anything that might contradict their personal cherished beliefs. They probably have fundamentalist Christian backgrounds; their education to this point had probably been[...]