Happy Birthday Mr. Darwin

On February 12 one hundred ninety-nine years ago the person who did not invent nor discover the theory of biological evolution was born in Shrewsbury, England. And around that date next month, folks the world over will celebrate the discoveries and life of that man, Mr. Charles Robert Darwin.

Coinciding with Mr. Darwin’s birthday, during the weekend of February 8-10 at least 30 churches here in Texas, along with several hundred other denominational and non-denominational congregations across the land, will again this year participate in Evolution Weekend. Evolution Weekend is an annual event meant to serve as an opportunity for congregations to discuss the compatibility of religion and science and to demonstrate that religious peoples from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.

In addition, hundreds of museums and educational institutions in this country and around the globe will also be celebrating Mr. Darwin’s birthday (including at the BookPeople bookstore in Austin on February 10) with symposiums, exhibits, teach-ins, library displays, lectures, plays, study circles, essay competitions–and plenty plenty of birthday cakes. More information on such events can be found at Darwin Day Celebration.

The genius of Charles Darwin was, of course, in amassing and identifying evidence for one of evolution’s driving mechanisms, that is, natural selection — one of the greatest ideas, as Richard Dawkins has said, ever to occur to the human mind.

To paraphrase Darwin, natural selection is the principle by which some random variations in traits in a population tend to be preserved and passed on to future generations if they are sufficient enough to aid survival and reproduction given the local environment. The result is, in Darwin’s words, “descent with modification,” that is, biological evolution.

All of Darwin’s ideas about evolution were not correct, his “Provisional Hypothesis of Pangenesis” to explain heritability, for example. But Mr. Darwin was a scrupulously honest scientist and for over 150 years now, rigorous research by scientists from a variety of disciplines the world over, including from today’s fields of biochemistry and molecular biology, have time and again confirmed that the evidence overwhelmingly supports Mr. Darwin’s elegant explanation of biological evolution by natural selection just as much as the evidence unequivocally supports Copernicus’s theory that the Earth orbits the Sun, and not the other way around as religious dogma long insisted.

So, here’s a toast to you, Mr. Darwin! We are deeply grateful for your hard work, honest science, and for helping us to understand a key part of how nature works. Happy birthday!!

They just make up their own facts…

 
I think this’d make a terrific certification sticker for every Master of Flat Earth “science” diploma issued by the IRC:

Non Sequitur
 
(Thanks to Udo Schuklenk for the “Master of Flat Earth” line.)

Texas Higher Education Scam

 
Following is my understanding of a higher-education scam now unfolding in Texas that I hope everyone dedicated to providing students with an honest education will be extremely concerned about. The issue has to do with the Institute for Creation Research’s efforts to secure accreditation to award master degrees in science:

The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) is a young earth creation science Christian ministry specializing in education, research, and media communications dedicated to the study and promotion of creation science and Biblical creationism. The ICR adopts the Bible as an inerrant and literal documentary of scientific and historical fact as well as religious and moral truths, and espouses a Young Earth creationist world view. It strongly rejects the science of evolutionary biology, which it views as a corrupting moral and social influence and threat to religious belief. ICR runs its own graduate school that offers M.S. degrees in science education. Its stated mission is to “research, educate and communicate Truth involving the study and promotion of scientific creationism, Biblical creationism, and related fields.”

ICR recently moved its headquarters from San Diego, California (where it had permission, but not accreditation, to grant master’s degrees in science education), to Dallas, Texas, where it registered as a “private, not-for-profit corporation, for the purposes of research, writing, and education in both the standard curriculum of each scientific discipline and the Institute’s supplemental framework of scientific creationism and biblical authority in all disciplines.”

Until very recently, ICR had been accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), a fundamentalist and Biblical literalist Christian accrediting association–which ICR itself created. However, because the State of Texas does not recognize TRACS accreditation, ICR voluntarily gave up TRACS accreditation with its move to this state, where it is now seeking legitimate accreditation.

ICR wants the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to give them official state certification to award Master’s Degrees in Science Education in Texas, which it plans to offer through online as distance education courses. ICR has also applied for legitimate accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), one of nine accrediting organizations for bachelor and graduate degrees which Texas does recognize.

On November 8, 2007, a three-person THECB evaluation committee (with questionable qualifications given their task, and apparently selected to serve based on their favorable predisposition for ICR’s request) conducted an on-site evaluation visit to ICR and subsequently issued a report that in part concluded:

“It is fair to say that the proposed master’s degree in science education, while carrying an embedded component of creationist perspectives/views, is nevertheless a plausible program. The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial master’s degree in science education from on of the smaller, regional universities in the state.”

On December 14, 2007, the THECB’s Certification Advisory Council reviewed the on-site evaluation of ICR and then voted unanimously to endorse the ICR’s request for certification. That endorsement will now be sent to the full THECB Board for action in January 2008.

If granted, the THECB certification would be good for two years and would allow ICR an opportunity to operate its pseudoscience graduate school here in Texas for that period of time while it seeks permanent official accreditation from SACS. The concern is that ICR would then be able to leverage their two years into something SACS will be unwilling or intimidated to destroy–not an unlikely scenario at all given ICR’s long history of machinations in California.

If providing students with an honest education concerns you, you can voice your opinion about this potential travesty by writing to:

Dr. Raymund A. Paredes, Commissioner
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
P.O. Box 12788
Austin, TX 78711-2788
 
or by email at Raymund.Paredes@thecb.state.tx.us

Sources: My summary is heavily based on Dr. Steven Schafersman’s throughly detailed investigation into this matter as president of the Texas Citizens for Science. Other sources I used include: Institute for Creation Research, THECB’s Report of Evaluation of ICR (pdf file), Wikipedia entry for ICR, Answers in CreationNew York TimesDallas Morning News, and the Houston Chronicle.

The answer to war

From FCNL’s Washington Newsletter – December 2007:

If War is Not the Answer… What Is?

In the past six years, FCNL has distributed more than 400,000 War is Not the Answer yard signs, window signs, and bumper stickers around the United States. The signs have helped individuals make a statement of their belief, introduced people to their neighbors, and brought together a community of people who recognize and draw strength from every sighting of the blue signs.

In many places, the signs have also started a conversation: “I put up a War is Not the Answer sign and now everyone’s asking me what is the answer,” explained one troubled caller to the FCNL office. “Maybe I should put up a different sign?”

This caller, like tens of thousands of other people, started off making a simple statement about her personal belief, found in the process that she was part of a broader community of people around the country, and ultimately discovered that the signs are not an end, but rather the beginning of a conversation.

The answer to war, as FCNL has been saying for several years, is prevention, or the pursuit of peaceful prevention of deadly conflict. This newsletter (available here as a pdf file) is one part of the ongoing process of answering the question “If War is Not the Answer, What Is?” The U.S. spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year on the military and war, including $2 billion a week on the war and occupation of Iraq. Yet programs to prevent future deadly conflict and efforts to stop other countries from falling into war and crisis receive next to nothing. It doesn’t have to be like this.

This newsletter outlines the current funding problem and lays out a long-term change strategy that we believe can create a saner, more effective U.S. foreign relations infrastructure that would help make the world a safer place for all.

We’ve also tried to identify several short term steps Congress can take to begin building the tools for peaceful prevention of deadly conflict. We hope you’ll read the newsletter, then consider joining this effort. One place to begin would be to sign up for our specialized monthly email list called “prevent war.” You can also find our more on our website.

“What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development.” – Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, November 2007

Religion’s propagation of ignorance

The thing I hate most, I think, about organized religion is its reliance upon and propagation of ignorance.

I say ‘I think’ because I also hate religious hucksters, like Benny HinnJim Bakker, and Robert Tilton, just to name a few of the “religious” scam artists who hustle countless dollars from folks–who seem more than happy to oblige the hustle in return, apparently, for a one-way ticket to the abode of the righteous.

But, religion’s propagation of ignorance, especially with children and the child-like, is truly an evil act of mankind.

The intelligent design creationism movement is an obvious example of what I’m talking about, but there are another egregious cases–like AIDS and the Catholic Church.

According to UNICEF,

Globally, 2.3 million children around the world are living with HIV. In 2005, around 380,000 children died of AIDS and 540,000 got newly infected. Over 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

But the Catholic Church in the former British protectorate of Kenya says it’s “not right” to use condoms to fight aids.

Also according to UNICEF, Latin America has the highest proportion of youngsters infected with HIV-Aids in the world. But the Catholic Church still condemns the use of condoms and sex education in schools, which contributes to the spread of HIV.

And this astounding and sad fact:

Every day, almost 2,000 babies are infected with HIV during pregnancy, at birth or through breastfeeding. Without effective interventions, about one third of infants born to HIV-positive mothers contract the virus. Most of these infants will die before their fifth birthday.

I wonder how many of these kids and their parents who die from AIDS each year would still be alive today were it not for the Catholic Church’s acts of spreading ignorance in its opposition to the use of condoms and sex education to reduce the spread of HIV?

That one of the supposed paragons of ethics and morality causes these deaths, suffering and great misery is unforgivably irresponsible and criminal.

Fortunately, the Catholic Church’s influence isn’t as powerful in the republic of Madagascar, where indigenous religious beliefs are practiced by a majority of the population, as that country is apparently doing an excellent job of fighting to keep the HIV rate down.

One down; 36 to go

The last time this happened was 42 long years ago when Iowa and West Virginia voted it out. But, sometime within the next several days, when Governor Jon Corzine signs the legislation, the Garden State will legislatively rescind capital punishment, too!

I wasn’t aware that NJ’s legislature was working on this, nor am I aware of any other states close to legislatively abolishing the death penalty, but I’m as happy as Egalia that they figured this no brainer out.

As Christopher Hill, State Strategies Coordinator for the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project said: “[E]nding the death penalty is not about freeing criminals from responsibility, it is about freeing the state from a costly program which does not administer justice.” (Source)

Freeing taxpayers from a super expensive government program that doesn’t work; seems to me conservatives, if they are really loyal to conservative values, should be falling all over themselves to pass similar legislation in every state. Unless, of course, they’re too busy trying to ram the Christian creationism myth into the psyche of every child they can.

 

C’mon, grow up America!

It’s time for America to grow up.

So says Chris Castillo-Comer, the former director of science for the Texas Education Agency who was railroaded into resigning last month.

I second that motion.

All in favor, say aye.

All opposed, gurgle up a nay.

The ayes have it and so ordered (for the children’s sake, that is).