Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Don't believe in evolution? Don't get a recommendation.
January 30, 2003 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Don't believe in evolution? Don't get a recommendation. The Justice Department has been asked to look into the case of a Texas Tech biology professor who has made it clear that you won't get a recommendation from him if you believe in creationism. In his online notes to students, Dini writes "If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will ask you: 'How do you think the human species originated?' If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences." The Liberty Legal Institute, calls the policy "open religious bigotry." Texas Tech supports Lini, saying the decision on whether to recommend someone is a personal one. Clearly, it should be a professor's call on whether to give a student a recommendation or not, but did Lini make himself a target by laying out this criteria this way?
posted by Gilbert (182 comments total)

 
"Students are being denied recommendations not because of their competence in understanding evolution, but solely because of their personal religious beliefs," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the institute.

This was the salient point for me.
posted by orange swan at 9:21 AM on January 30, 2003


Recommendations do seem like a personal matter.

Sure, he made himself a target, I'm sure he did it intentionally. Evolution is the major battleground in the relatively recent trend of theology dressed as science (used to be only new age religion explaining their faith with fake science, not others are in the game).

It's biomedical science. If someone wanted an astronomy recommendation, yet believed the earth was the center of the universe (certainly, at least at one time, a common religious belief), and a professor wouldn't write a recommendation for that person -- is that religious discrimination too?
posted by malphigian at 9:25 AM on January 30, 2003


"This is the situation of those who deny the evolution of humans; such a one is throwing out information because it seems to contradict his/her cherished beliefs. Can a physician ignore data that s/he does not like and remain a physician for long?"

This was the salient point for me.
posted by Blake at 9:25 AM on January 30, 2003


A recommendation by definition is not a statement of fact. It is a subjective opinion on a person. The prof is honest about the criteria he uses to make a recommendation. It's not like he's the only professor in the school. When I was applying for grad school I appreciated professors who honestly told me that they didn't know me well enough to write an useful recommendation.
posted by tboz at 9:25 AM on January 30, 2003


Er, "now others are in the game." it should say.
posted by malphigian at 9:26 AM on January 30, 2003


Students are being denied recommendations not because of their competence in understanding evolution, but solely because of their personal religious beliefs," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the institute.

Of course she said that, its her job to say that and to make this guy look as bad as possible. What I wonder is if he really cuts you for actually having the beliefs or for not being able to explain the scientific principals behind evolutionary theory. You'd make a pretty lousy Biologist if you couldn't even explain what people are talking about with evolutionary theory, regardless of if you believe it or not!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:28 AM on January 30, 2003


Legally ignorant, here. What grounds does the Justice Department have for investigating? Is it illegal because you're not allowed to discriminate due to religion, and Texas Tech receives public monies?

Lini might have made himself a target, but only because he probably gets so many recommendation requests that he was trying to filter some people out. Too many of us obnoxious premeds out there.

And if Lini doesn't think you'll make a good doctor/biologist/whathaveyou because you don't fundamentally believe in evolution, isn't that his right? If I don't think you'll make a good X for reason Y, there's no way I'd recommend you to become an X. There's no law that says professors have to write letters for any of their students.
posted by gramcracker at 9:28 AM on January 30, 2003


If you look at the actual words he used, then I don't see the problem is:

"If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences."

If you want me to recommend that you should continue to study the science of biology, then you should be able to give a scientific explanation for biological development of the human being.

This does not mean you must believe that that Drawin or any of contemporary biologists is 100% correct, but you should be able to explain it using verifiable scientific means.

You can even say, "The current theory on the the development of the human species is . . ." and fulfill is criteria.

You are not interested in science if your a creationist. You are interested in proving a dogma. Science is about disagreement and testing/disproving hypothesis. If you base your theory on the origin of our species on a book and then work your entire life to prove that theory, then you are working contrary to the scientific method.
posted by betaray at 9:30 AM on January 30, 2003


Well within his rights. He is not required to make a recommendation for anyone, he will do it for those he deems worthy of his PERSONAL recommendation. When a professor makes a recommendation, his reputation is on the line, he is speaking for the student. If he doesn't believe the student is a good candidate, he doesn't have to write the letter.
posted by agregoli at 9:31 AM on January 30, 2003


If someone wanted an astronomy recommendation, yet believed the earth was the center of the universe (certainly, at least at one time, a common religious belief), and a professor wouldn't write a recommendation for that person -- is that religious discrimination too?

Malphigian, that's really not a good analogy. Scientists can prove that the sun is the centre of our galaxy. Meanwhile evolution has the status of a theory. Now, I'm not a creationist, and I do agree that people who dismiss evolution completely cannot claim to be scientists. But we've not been able to prove that evolution is the process by which there came to be life on earth. Therefore scientists in related fields are only required to know the theory and to keep an open mind that there may be yet another explanation.

On preview: What betaray said.
posted by orange swan at 9:35 AM on January 30, 2003


If the professor says that writing recommendation letters is a matter of his relgious belief, then what happens? It's not clear whose religious freedom ought to prevail in cases like this one.
posted by grimmelm at 9:37 AM on January 30, 2003


Not to side track things but why must religious groups like this hide their true purpose behind deceptive names like Liberty Legal Institute or "Free Market Foundation’s Legal Division". Why not "Religious Liberty Legal Institute" for example? There is a certain dishonesty involved that seems consistent with the beliefs and causes they support.
posted by Outlawyr at 9:38 AM on January 30, 2003


Do people not consider the merits of who is providing the recommendation, as well as its content?

A thoughtful person might wish consider the true message any recommendation he provided might convey, and the credentials of any prospective employer willing to accept it.

You don't need to prohibit the fellow - a very wide berth by the sagacious should be perfectly sufficient.
posted by RichLyon at 9:38 AM on January 30, 2003


His biography is interesting, not an individual that came by his beliefs lightly.

My education has taken place almost entirely in Roman Catholic schools. I attended De La Salle High School in Concord, California from 1968-1972 with the intention of becoming a physician. Though accepted to UCLA, I instead chose to enter a Roman Catholic order of teaching brothers (the Brothers of the Christian Schools, known in the U.S. simply as the Christian Brothers). As a young brother, I majored in biology and minored in religious studies at St. Mary's College, Moraga, California. I graduated magna cum laude in 1977 and was assigned by my religious superiors to teach at La Salle High School in Pasadena, California, where I remained for 4 years, teaching various courses in biology and religion and earning a California Secondary Teaching Credential.

An excellent professor I'd bet, if they deny him tenure over this it would stink.
posted by rotifer at 9:39 AM on January 30, 2003


(btw, I'm embarrassed of by my grammar there, I shouldn't be allow to post before noon)
posted by betaray at 9:39 AM on January 30, 2003


...How do you think the human species originated?' If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences."

this is not a question about whether a student belives in evolution or not. (although it's what he's aiming at that for sure) ... he's making the point that in order for his reccomendation, a student ought to be able to follow the scientific method and support their beliefs through evidence as the result of a scientific process. if that does not qualify as a quality of a good scientist, then i don't know what does.
posted by 11235813 at 9:40 AM on January 30, 2003


m the LLI website on this issue:
"LLI is representing a student who was denied a letter of discrimination by a professor because of his Christian beliefs."

I guess in Texas you're allowed to discriminate if you get a professor's permission first? Is that right?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:44 AM on January 30, 2003


A fine example of what makes the U.S. of A. such a great country. And I really mean that: here we are, 2003 c.e. and we still can spend energy on such issues. On the other hand, here we are, 2003 c.e., and I am struck by the utter failure of real progress in western thought. How long are we going to be on this divine power mono-theism ride anyway? Don't we have more important things to do? (Actually I do but can't seem to concentrate today.)
posted by Dick Paris at 9:44 AM on January 30, 2003


Meanwhile evolution has the status of a theory.

Unbelievable
posted by dgaicun at 9:44 AM on January 30, 2003


backs up, starts again
Fro...
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:45 AM on January 30, 2003


said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the institute.

Of course she said that, its her job


Pssst! Kelly's a guy!


"To speak with Mr. Kelly Shackelford, Chief Counsel with LLI, contact Kathryn Larkin at 972-423-8889 x102."


Scientists can prove that the sun is the centre of our galaxy.

I hadn't heard that.

prove that evolution is the process by which there came to be life on earth.

Evolution is more than explaining how life originated on earth, which is quite different than explaining how the human species originated.
posted by tolkhan at 9:45 AM on January 30, 2003


I teach bible history. No one who denies the literal truth of Genesis gets a recommendation from me.
posted by Postroad at 9:47 AM on January 30, 2003


If someone wanted an astronomy recommendation, yet believed the earth was the center of the universe ...

I've TA'd astronomy classes (in the US) where kids have thought this. The professor didn't seem unduly concerned. They just didn't get marks f or the exam questions where they used the earth-centred model as a basis for their answer (and the kids didn't challenge this either).a
posted by carter at 9:47 AM on January 30, 2003


Meanwhile evolution has the status of a theory.

So does gravity. "Theory" when used in science means a set of extensively-tested principles used to explain and predict facts and phenomena, "theory" when used in normal conversation means "speculation". The two uses do not have the same meaning.

A student who believes in creationism could not, in good conscience, be recommended for biomedical science. I don't see how the professor is in any way wrong, and this seems like yet another attempt to validate beliefs by insisting that they're science.
posted by biscotti at 9:50 AM on January 30, 2003


Only in Texass.
posted by zekinskia at 9:53 AM on January 30, 2003


Scientists can prove that the sun is the centre of our galaxy. Meanwhile evolution has the status of a theory. — orange swan

The Sun isn't the center of our galaxy (jeez!), and evolution isn't a theory. Evolution is a fact observed in the field and the laboratory and well-documented in the fossil record, and the theory of natural selection is the widely-accepted explanation of evolution's mechanism.
posted by nicwolff at 9:53 AM on January 30, 2003


I think orange swan meant to say solar system, not galaxy.

I think the analogy is good. The heliocentric model is considered fact by most scientists. However, a scientist would be willing to change this view if presented with new, contrary evidence. This is the difference between science and religion. Scientific beliefs are not a Sacred Word from God. They are a result of the scientific method.

As a scientist, the prof here is saying I will not endorse your capabilities as a scientist if you refuse to practice good science.
posted by computerface at 9:56 AM on January 30, 2003


I teach bible history. No one who denies the literal truth of Genesis gets a recommendation from me.

Seems fair to me.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 9:58 AM on January 30, 2003


I think that he should not only be allowed to deny a student a recommendation, but that he should also be allowed to whip their trousers down and give them a jolly good spanking.
This is not a troll, I'm just sick of meeting Arts graduates who tell me that science is just a text, a cultural construct.
Let them tell me that the pain they feel as the paddle strikes bumflesh is just a text.
Let me chuck bricks at them, while screaming: 'So, did that feel like a freaking text?'
Let me...(dribbles and froths)
posted by chrisgregory at 10:02 AM on January 30, 2003


Meanwhile evolution has the status of a theory. posted by orange swan at 5:35 PM GMT on January 30 So, what do you think scientists mean when they use the word 'theory' -
1 : the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another
2 : abstract thought : SPECULATION
3 : the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art, eg, 'music theory'
4 a : a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action,eg, 'her method is based the theory that all children want to learn';
4 b : an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances -- often used in the phrase in theory, eg 'in theory, we have always advocated freedom for all'
5 : a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena 'wave theory of light'
6 a : a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation b : an unproved assumption : CONJECTURE c : a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject , eg, 'theory of equations'
synonym see HYPOTHESIS
I suggest they mean it in senses 1, 3, 5 & 6 [though not 6b]. That is a status worth having - and and it is not demeaning or belittling to call it "a theory". In everyday use, there's a distinction that scientists don't get confused over.
posted by dash_slot- at 10:05 AM on January 30, 2003


I agree with what nicwolff said. Evolution is an observable and accepted fact. The mechanism giving rise to evolution is the subject of theory.

Creationism is faith and belief, not science. The precepts of Creationism take it out of the field of scientific inquiry and beyond the tools utilized in the scientific method.

If one seeks advanced education in science, learn the science.
posted by mygoditsbob at 10:06 AM on January 30, 2003


I teach bible history. No one who denies the literal truth of Genesis gets a recommendation from me.

I would be willing to bet that you are not teaching bible history at a public university. If you are, you better keep a lid on it before they shut you down.

In any event, irrespective of whether the professor is on firm legal ground or not, he should be mature enough to respect the religious beliefs of his students. A person need not believe the fact (or theory) of evolution in order to understand or teach it. The professor's position -- as well as some of the comments by people here -- represent another sad example of how it has become socially acceptable to ridicule and demean religion.
posted by Durwood at 10:08 AM on January 30, 2003


Another interesting, and quite ironic point, is that it is thought (though not an established 'theory') that the development of monotheism led to the establishment of science as we know it. Scientific training has only been around for 3,000 (depending on whom you talk to) years, so it is safe to assume that we will be having the same conversations for another 3,000 years... What a great thought! LOL - I wouldn't let some doctor that didn't believe in one of the basic concepts (sorry, theories) of medicine/biology to come near me with a ten foot pole!
posted by npost at 10:09 AM on January 30, 2003


This guy left his religious order after 14 years. In my experience, people who do that tend (only tend, mind you) to have brittle, controlling personalities. The tone of the writing on his various pages supports this hypothesis, and his page on how to get a letter of recommendation from him certainly fits with it. In the end, everything he writes seems intended to bring attention back to him.

It's sad, really.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 10:14 AM on January 30, 2003


Malphigian, that's really not a good analogy. Scientists can prove that the sun is the centre of our galaxy. Meanwhile evolution has the status of a theory

orange swan: As others have mentioned, you seem not to understand what a scientific theory is. Gravity is a theory as well, I think what you're thinking of is a hypothesis, which is NOT what evolution is.

Every single scientific "fact" is no more than this: A best fit for current data. If new data comes along, you try and replicate it, if it holds up, you develop a new theory. That is how science works, some scientists may get dogmatic, but they are not practicing good science when they do so. Indeed, the particulars of evolution have changed many times since its initial development. But the data on macro level evolution is extremely strong. No, its not as strong as the earth going around the sun, but its pretty overwhelming.

"Intelligent design", on the other hand, is the opposite, you start with a belief (based on faith), reject out of hand all data that contradicts that belief, and constantly dig for data that supports it. It's not science at all.
posted by malphigian at 10:17 AM on January 30, 2003


Malphigian, that's really not a good analogy. Scientists can prove that the sun is the centre of our galaxy. Meanwhile evolution has the status of a theory. Now, I'm not a creationist, and I do agree that people who dismiss evolution completely cannot claim to be scientists. But we've not been able to prove that evolution is the process by which there came to be life on earth. Therefore scientists in related fields are only required to know the theory and to keep an open mind that there may be yet another explanation.

Actually, there are more independent lines of evidence to support evolution than there are to support the heliocentric solar system.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:18 AM on January 30, 2003


The professor's position -- as well as some of the comments by people here -- represent another sad example of how it has become socially acceptable to ridicule and demean religion.

I don't see the professor's position as ridiculing and demeaning religion at all. This isn't about religion. It's about science. If the student can't practice good science, they don't get the recommendation. Same for accounting and mathematics, I suppose.

The professors isn't being disrespectful of the person's religious beliefs. The student is being disrespectful of the professor.
posted by tolkhan at 10:19 AM on January 30, 2003


I can't believe this is even an issue. I'm moving to Canada.
posted by condour75 at 10:19 AM on January 30, 2003


In any event, irrespective of whether the professor is on firm legal ground or not, he should be mature enough to respect the religious beliefs of his students. A person need not believe the fact (or theory) of evolution in order to understand or teach it. The professor's position -- as well as some of the comments by people here -- represent another sad example of how it has become socially acceptable to ridicule and demean religion.

You miss professor Dini's point completely. As you will not in my previous post, he was a Catholic brother for 14 years. Religious beliefs have nothing to do with his recommendation policy, rather, he wants his students to have a firm set of scientific principles.

From his site:

An educator who possesses integrity does not act with the purpose of making him or herself popular. This, rather, is the sort of behavior we have come to expect of the worst politicians who allow their actions to be governed more by popularity polls than by principles. Course policies and procedures are designed and implemented without regard to their affect on my popularity and only with regard to whether they increase students’ abilities to understand biology, to think and act like biologists, and to demonstrate these abilities validly and truthfully.
posted by rotifer at 10:20 AM on January 30, 2003


Ah, "note", sorry.
posted by rotifer at 10:22 AM on January 30, 2003


I think the professor has overstepped. I was never asked to affirm that Shakespeare was a great playwrite or that the study of literature is valuable when I sought letters of recommendation from my English professors.

Giving letters of recommendations to students who have become acquainted with the professor and who have done well in the class is part of a professor's job, plain and simple. If a creationist who can put aside his disbelief in evolution so thoroughly as to learn and evidence enough knowledge in evolutionary theory to get an "A" in undergraduate biology, and is so foolish as to wish to pursue graduate studies in biology, he is entitled to that recommendation.
posted by MattD at 10:25 AM on January 30, 2003


What is scary, is the following from the Liberty Legal Institute:

In its first three years, the Institute has handled 28 cases and countless legal situations with a success rate of over 80 percent.

Also, take a look at their current cases... Interesting.

Also, I don't think that the Professor is disparaging Religion perse, but reaffirming a fundamental requirement that a science major know, understand, and accept scientific concepts.
posted by npost at 10:26 AM on January 30, 2003


Citation for the definitions above.

Durwood: where does the professor ridicule?
Peeping thomist: do you often make long-distance personality analyses on the tone of a persons writings?
posted by dash_slot- at 10:26 AM on January 30, 2003


orange swan

Psssssst .... the sun IS NOT the center of our galaxy. And while we can prove that all the planets in our *solar system* revolve around it, we can't prove how it got this way. We can only theorize about a "big bang".

Same with evolution. You cannot prove evolution, but all our current scientific knowledge points to it. Don' get tangled in the theory part. because anybody who says "it's a theory, and thus not true by definition" simply does not understand the modern scientific method.
posted by magullo at 10:27 AM on January 30, 2003


At least Dini is being forthright about it; he could simply write weak recommendations for the students who, in his opinion, will turn out to be bad scientists. That would be much worse for those students than his current frankly stated policy.

The professor's position -- as well as some of the comments by people here -- represent another sad example of how it has become socially acceptable to ridicule and demean religion.

Give me a break. Did you read the professor's explanation of his position? It's frank and straightforward; there's nothing remotely "demeaning" about it. He's not ridiculing anyone's religious beliefs.

I will, though. While I generally have great respect for people of religious faith and conviction, creationists are ignorant fuckwits. As soon as your religious faith begins contradicting observable reality, you have a problem. These people are mocking 2000 years of astute, insightful, intellectually stimulating Christian theology by their psuedotheological denial of a simple fact. They're intellectually bankrupt. A belief does not automatically get my respect because someone calls that belief "religion".

Giving letters of recommendations to students who have become acquainted with the professor and who have done well in the class is part of a professor's job, plain and simple.

As is giving his honest opinion of how that student will perform in their future studies/career. If Dini honestly doesn't believe that creationists can be good scientists, then it's a good thing that he warns these students away from him. Would you prefer he wrote a letter that said, "This student's ability to do science is crippled by her beliefs."? Would you prefer he lied about his opinion? Because, after all, a letter of recommendation is little more than a statement of opinion.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:33 AM on January 30, 2003


"another sad example of how it has become socially acceptable to ridicule and demean religion."
It's now socially acceptable to ridicule and demean religion? That's a relief, I've been holding my tongue for years waiting for this moment. Christ was not the "son of God". What an absurd concept. People who believe that are worthy of ridicule, and I demean them, and invite others to do so.

Oh, that felt like a good fart. Aaaaaah.
posted by Outlawyr at 10:33 AM on January 30, 2003


Aside from the fine comments everyone else has posted, I think there's another angle to this story. The implication seems to be that a student is somehow entitled to a letter of recommendation, or that a professor is obligated to write a letter of recommendation. Now, I am in the midst of applying to grad school/law school and, looking over statistics, it seems as though everyone gets 'A's (let's just stipulate grade inflation here). Thus, I assume, the admissions committee can derive little benefit from transcripts and GPAs. Therefore, they look to the letters of recommendation submitted on behalf of an applicant. However, if there exists, as implied, an obligation on the part of professors to write presumably positive letters of recommendation regardless of their experience and relationship with a student, isn't the utility of recommendations destroyed? And once the distinguishing power of transcripts and recommendations is gone, what has the hapless admissions committee but the merciless numbers of the various standardized tests that plague grad-school applicants?

Personally, I am convinced that the Liberty Legal institute is a front organization for Kaplan, the GRE, MCAT, and LSAT administrators , and the authors of the Peterson Test Prep books.

More seriously, it seems to me as though this suit is part of a trend of behaviors discrediting any academic performance-indicator that's not supposedly-objective standardized testing.
posted by stet at 10:33 AM on January 30, 2003


Durwood - First of all, I'm going to guess that a good majority of publically funded schools have religious studies as a possible major. Second of all, there's a very good reason for this "ridicule." Science was not able to make significant advances until it was separated (literally and psychologically) from religion. Now the fundies and their lawyers are trying to erode that separation, and worse yet to masquerade as "science" in order to artificially attain the level of respect that science has earned through centuries of work.

MattD - your analogy might work if you were asked to affirm that Shakespeare existed and wrote plays.
posted by badstone at 10:37 AM on January 30, 2003


Giving letters of recommendations to students who have become acquainted with the professor and who have done well in the class is part of a professor's job, plain and simple.

1. Students are not entitled to recommendations. I don't recall anything in my contract saying that such letters are part of my job description; they are a professional and personal courtesy.

2. I have no problem with a professor of Biblical studies who believes in plenary inspiration denying a recommendation to a student who does not. See #1.

3. Would students prefer it if Prof. Dini wrote them letters of recommendation that concluded with the lines "unfortunately, in my opinion this student's creationist beliefs makes him not only unsuitable for this field of study, but also positively dangerous"? Asking a professor who not only doesn't agree with you but more seriously thinks your position is dishonest for a letter of rec is beyond stupid. (An aside: some of my own professors and colleagues have some real letter of rec horror stories, like letters that denounced them as dangers to society. Seriously.) I think I've refused to write one or two letters on the grounds that the student would not like what I had to say, which most would regard as a kindness rather than an act of discrimination...

If a creationist who can put aside his disbelief in evolution so thoroughly as to learn and evidence enough knowledge in evolutionary theory to get an "A" in undergraduate biology, and is so foolish as to wish to pursue graduate studies in biology, he is entitled to that recommendation.

Er, yes, and given Prof. Dini's own criteria, he would write them a recommendation, wouldn't he?
posted by thomas j wise at 10:37 AM on January 30, 2003


DAMMIT mr_roboto! Not only did you beat me to the punch, you did a better job at punching. I ridicule and demean you!
posted by Outlawyr at 10:38 AM on January 30, 2003


If a creationist who can put aside his disbelief in evolution so thoroughly as to learn and evidence enough knowledge in evolutionary theory to get an "A" in undergraduate biology, and is so foolish as to wish to pursue graduate studies in biology, he is entitled to that recommendation.

A creationist that can get an A in his class can certainly answer his question with scientific principles, no?

Seriously, over the years of my scientific training, I've written more than my fair share of english papers and philosophy papers extolling the virtues of the professor's favorite poet or philosopher, even though I didn't believe a word of it.

You can still have religious freedom, just answer his question with scientific fact.
posted by mathowie at 10:41 AM on January 30, 2003


>Meanwhile evolution has the status of a theory.

Man, I'm sick of hearing that. Theory is the end of the scientific process. There is no graduation ceremony into "undeniable truth." Undeniable truth lives in the land of the religious not the scientific.

As far as the movement and position of celestial bodies goes, its an observation that works within the theory of universal gravitation.
posted by skallas at 10:42 AM on January 30, 2003


he is entitled to that recommendation

No, he's not entitled to anything. You earn a recommendation, and the professor has made it very clear how to earn his.

If an individual cannot 'truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to [the] question [of human origin]', then you don't get it. Simple as that.

My problem is with his syntax. What does he mean by 'truthfully and forthrightly affirm.' This is what gets him in trouble, I think, because with that phrase he seems to require belief.
posted by moonbiter at 10:43 AM on January 30, 2003


To nitpick, it's actually a more reasonable claim to say that the solar system revolves around the earth. The sun has a nice orbit around us, and the other planets have really funky patterns around us. This hypothesis doesn't really work because it's not really a perfect picture of the system, but it's a hell of a lot closer to the truth than biblical creationism.
posted by callmejay at 10:52 AM on January 30, 2003


thomas j wise --

I simply disagree about the nature of recommendations as part of a teacher's job. They may be freely withheld on the grounds of lack of acquaintence with the student or poor performance in a course, but not otherwise. That is very plainly implied in the "contract" which more generally governs conduct at university. As a real world matter, I have no doubt that a professor would be called to account for his behavior if the Department Chairman started hearing that he was regularly refusing recommendations to students who'd gotten A's, spoken up at lecture, and gone to office hours a couple of times.

The AAUP may stand behind you, but there's no one so doctrinaire that they won't admit that there are plenty of things which academic freedom technically permits but which are nevertheless gross violations of the social contract of academia. Faculties and administrator rely upon collegiality, peer pressure, and repeated assignments to 8 a.m. freshmen lecture courses to keep tenured misanthropes in line, but sometimes it doesn't work. (See every faculty office hallway everywhere where faculty avoid the glare of their scowling longer colleague...)
posted by MattD at 10:52 AM on January 30, 2003


As someone who routinely handles cultural artifacts which are (verifiably!) 4-5,000 years old, I am stunned that a concept which maintains that the Universe can only be 6-10,000 years old can be given such credibility that it is seems to be almost an acceptable alternative to empirical scientific teaching in parts of the US education system. Giving credence to what should really be somewhat marginal issue of blind, personal faith simply cannot be healthy in the long run.

Creationist beliefs, especially when cloaked in a pseudo-scientific veneer, are fascinating in their underlying mediaeval simplicity.

Anyway, I say good on Dini - for taking a stand in such a way that what he requires is simply a scientific explanation for whatever viewpoint his students (of science, remember) may have.
posted by Doozer at 10:54 AM on January 30, 2003


another sad example of how it has become socially acceptable to ridicule and demean religion.

Because Christians never demean and ridicule other religions...;p
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:55 AM on January 30, 2003


Hey chrisgregory I hate to be the one who breaks it to you but the art students are right. Science is a text and a cultural construct. And, like similiar cultural constructs in their printed form, it will hurt people if they are hit with it. And that's a phenomenon (do-do do-do-do). The 'text' of science is the construct of a culture that values the disciplined study of phenomena. We reap the benefits of this study constantly. Anyway, map/territory, moon/finger, message/medium, etc, ad nauseam.
posted by wobh at 10:57 AM on January 30, 2003


Moonbiter and Stet - EXACTLY. A recommendation is not a right of ANY student.

Suppose there was a brilliant student that the professor hated for some personal reason. Should he still be forced to write a recommendation? Would he be sued if he didn't? A good recommendation is really a personal endorsement. What about the rights of the professor to his beliefs? Should he be forced to implicitly endorse (through a student) beliefs that he feels are antithetical not only to his own, but to his whole field?

Ya wanna rec? Go ask someone else.
posted by synapse at 10:59 AM on January 30, 2003


Stet: Hear, hear. I'm currently serving on the graduate admissions committee for my department, and I can tell you that transcripts & GRE scores are next to useless in telling whether an applicant should be admitted (unless they're horrendously bad, and even then it's still not a litmus test.) The vast majority of applicants are accepted or rejected on the strength of their recommendation letters and their prior research experience. Any "obligation" of a professor to write a letter of recommendation for a given student would seriously dilute their utility.

As it stands... yes, he's making himself a target, and he might be over the top about it. If I found myself in a similar situation, I might tell the students that I would write them a letter of recommendation, but that if they held creationist beliefs I would mention it in my letter. It would have much the same effect as no letter at all, at least for a fair number of schools.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:59 AM on January 30, 2003


Couldn't you simply discuss the theory of evolution and then explain why you disagree with it? Or not mention that part at all? Or, why would you even want a recommendation from such an Unbeliever? And how stupid and/or thought-controlled do you have to be to not reconcile belief in God with evolution by considering that God set evolution in motion?

You have to applaud this professor, who must be sick of, and angry over Creationism (which must be taken seriously by a fair number of people in the South).

Hope the pathetic Creationists loose.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:03 AM on January 30, 2003


also, perhaps in a similar vein to what Johnny Assay and Stet said . . .
Recommendations need to have more than just an affirmation that the student was competent enough to earn an "A". Otherwise they would be no more use than a transcript.
posted by synapse at 11:04 AM on January 30, 2003


What I wonder about is whether antibiotic resistant strains of stapheococcus aureus are the result of 'intelligent design' or not.

I am reminded of the quote from Isaac Bashevis Singer originally coming via Jessamyn which JoeKeefe posted here:

MK: Do you think that the Holocaust was an anomaly of human history?
IBS: No. It's a part of human history. The whole of human history is a holocaust.
MK: If that is true, and there is a God, what is God doing?
IBS: [shouting angrily] He did it! HE did it! I didn't do it! He created a world in which animals and man and God knows what else fight like hell all of the time. Fight! They fight for sex. They fight for territory. They fight for all kinds of cultures. They fight about religion.

Didn't Voltaire say something like

If God has created us in his own image, we have more than returned the compliment... ?
posted by y2karl at 11:08 AM on January 30, 2003


skallas -

actually, in addition to hypotheses and theories, science also has "laws" that form the building blocks of theory. physicists tend to refer to these as "first principles", and include such things as the conservation laws (mass, energy, momentum) in physics, and just about anything from mathematics. these laws are the foundation of scientific "belief."
posted by badstone at 11:13 AM on January 30, 2003


Hey, wobh, science is not a text. The words used to describe scientific theories have specific meanings. They are not metaphors. There is no uncertainty in a literary sense. If I say to you that two plus two equals four, that is not a text subject to cultural ambiguities. If I throw a brick at your head, as I suggested, the path that it takes and the force that it exerts are not dependent on cultural factors.
And if you disagree with me, I'm quite happy to arrange a practical demonstration.
posted by chrisgregory at 11:15 AM on January 30, 2003


Let's think about this from the standpoint of incentive.

The policy of this professor encourages dishonesty or silence among creationists who wish to be doctors or veterinarians (because, to be realistic, I don't think many creationists want to get PhDs in biophysics) and encourages other creationists to avoid biology classes which might challenge their beliefs. What interests does that serve?

It seems to me that it would far more sensible to engage creationists openly. The evidence of the strict creationist view is pretty paltry, from a scientific standpoint, so it is not like you're going to lose much lecture time from it. I certainly think that more creationists are converted to evolutionists in college than the reverse (by a factor of fifty, or maybe infinity, since I've never heard of someone becoming a creationist past the age of 18...)
posted by MattD at 11:17 AM on January 30, 2003


As the token self appointed representative in the struggle against all things fundamentalist I would like to thank many of you for your excellent input in this discussion. (Where's my Oscar?)

Thank David Koresh (the guy did say he was God, correct?) that reason can still overcome the darkness of willful ignorance.

The Roman Catholic church (you know, the ones who thought the Earth was flat, etc.) has no problem with the Big Bang today so why should these nuts? Oh, never mind.
posted by nofundy at 11:19 AM on January 30, 2003


MattD: I think the professor has overstepped. I was never asked to affirm that Shakespeare was a great playwrite or that the study of literature is valuable when I sought letters of recommendation from my English professors.

I guess it's an issue of "Is a prof required to write letters of recommendation?" I don't think they are. And if a student can't answer Dini's questions, and Dini feels that a person believing in evolution is fundamental and required for a person to be a good scientist or doctor, Dini has every right to refuse to write the rec. Just because you get an A in a class doesn't mean you deserve a rec from the prof. I got an A in Macroecon, didn't speak to the professor once, but he somehow is obligated to write a letter about my Economics performance because I know how he tests? I agree there's a level of "implied contract" in academia, but you've got the implication wrong. A professor should write letters of recommendation for students as part of his or her job. Yes, that's arguable. But a professor should not have to write letters for every student that requests one, especially if the professor doesn't think the student will be good in whatever field (for whatever reason).

If I, as a French teacher, believe that speaking French is absolutely necessary for a person to have a quality study abroad experience in Paris, and I meet a student who doesn't speak French, I'm not going to write a rec for him or her. If I'm writing the rec, I get to decide how to evaluate the student. It's my letter, my opinion. Subjective, like tboz said. And if a student doesn't like it, he can find another French teacher (or biology. And I'm sure there's plenty of bio teachers and bio courses at Texas Tech).

thomas j wise: #3 is right on the mark. You want Letters of Rec from profs that you like, and that like you. I never approached a professor that I didn't think would write a great letter for me, and I asked them, point blank, "Do you think you know me well enough to write a great letter of recommendation for me, and would you be willing to?" If someone's only going to say general things about me, and doesn't know me well, I don't want their letter representing myself to an admissions committee.
posted by gramcracker at 11:19 AM on January 30, 2003


actually, in addition to hypotheses and theories, science also has "laws" that form the building blocks of theory. physicists tend to refer to these as "first principles", and include such things as the conservation laws (mass, energy, momentum) in physics, and just about anything from mathematics. these laws are the foundation of scientific "belief."

Except that even "laws" are being updated and "proven" to have exceptions and fallacies. Even Newton's Laws have been shown to break up in the fabric of space. Newton was updated by Einstein, Einstein in turn by guys like Hawking. As has been said before, there is no "definite proof" or ultimate truth in Science, only in Religion. There is no Bible of science for literal translation!

I'm going to guess that a good majority of publicly funded schools have religious studies as a possible major.

I'm going to guess that this would be a "Religious Studies" major and not "Bible History" though!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:21 AM on January 30, 2003


badstone, you're about 75-100 years out of date on your philosophy of science. They might still teach that "law" stuff in grade school textbooks, but it's no longer in currency among scientists. Observations and experiments form the building blocks of theory. The word "law" is still used in a couple cases, though. The first case is for pretty fundamental theories that have been traditionally called "laws", e.g. the second law of thermodynamics. The use of the word "law" in this case confers no special status to the theory, however; it's more a matter of tradition than anything. The word "law" is also used to name empirical generalizations: Ohm's law, for instance. These "laws" actually have a weaker theoretical standing than scientific theories--they're typically just algebraic guidelines describing data and they lack a corresponding descriptive model of the system.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:27 AM on January 30, 2003


Just a guess mr_roboto, but I doubt there is much scientific theory in the 20th century, particularly in physics, that is expressed without assumption of mathematical laws.
posted by badstone at 11:33 AM on January 30, 2003


As far as I know, mathematicians don't really use the word "law" at all. Axioms, lemmas, conjectures, theorems: yes; but not "laws".
posted by mr_roboto at 11:39 AM on January 30, 2003


In fact, it is impossible to claim that the data collected by experiments has any validity use for formation of broad theory without assumptions like temporal and spatial invariance.
posted by badstone at 11:40 AM on January 30, 2003


A person need not believe the fact (or theory) of evolution in order to understand or teach it.

Yeah, that's what I want. Teachers who don't believe in what they are teaching and are therefore not enthusiastic about their subject (read: boring).

It's also a matter of integrity. If you allow an organization to dictate that you teach something you do not actually believe, then you have no integrity. And that speaks louder than anything else.

I was never asked to affirm that Shakespeare was a great playwrite
MattD, if you were looking for a recommendation into a Schakespeare study PhD program, perhaps you may have.
posted by archimago at 11:43 AM on January 30, 2003


I think if a student can meet the other two criteria, they probably can meet the third. So, the whole web page is pointless. It's like a big opinion article about why creationists shouldn't apply to graduate school.
posted by rschram at 11:44 AM on January 30, 2003


In fact, it is impossible to claim that the data collected by experiments has any validity use for formation of broad theory without assumptions like temporal and spatial invariance.

Yeah, yeah, of course there are always assumptions. Scientists use the word "assumption" for those. I'm just objecting to your use of the word "law", which has a bunch of baggage associated with it: lots of kids have been taught that successful theories are eventually elevated to the status of "law". This just isn't the case. Also, I wouldn't consider the conservation laws to be first principles in physics (as you stated earlier): we've known that energy and matter aren't necessarily conserved since 1905 or so. The conservation laws are valid assumptions in many regimes, however.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:50 AM on January 30, 2003


Hope the pathetic Creationists loose.

Now the fundies and their lawyers are trying to erode that separation, and worse yet to masquerade as "science" in order to artificially attain the level of respect that science has earned through centuries of work.

Giving credence to what should really be somewhat marginal issue of blind, personal faith simply cannot be healthy in the long run.

The Roman Catholic church (you know, the ones who thought the Earth was flat, etc.) has no problem with the Big Bang today so why should these nuts? Oh, never mind.

I've been holding my tongue for years waiting for this moment. Christ was not the "son of God". What an absurd concept. People who believe that are worthy of ridicule, and I demean them, and invite others to do so.Oh, that felt like a good fart. Aaaaaah.

since I've never heard of someone becoming a creationist past the age of 18...

Socially acceptable to ridicule religion? The prosecution rests....
posted by Durwood at 11:57 AM on January 30, 2003


I refuse to give a web design recommendation to anyone who cannot truthfully affirm the statement: "busy, dark backgrounds do not go with dark text."

So sue me.
posted by goethean at 11:57 AM on January 30, 2003


MattD: It seems to me that it would far more sensible to engage creationists openly.

Of course, there's the whole "don't dignify it with a response" angle that some people take to threats on their deepest convictions (evolution, in this guy's case). I suspect this professor isn't interested in debating anyone and is using it as a broad filter to weed out the number of recommendation letters he has to write (it is a lot of work to do them). He's not doing the most noble thing by taking this line of tact nor are his methods sensitive to students, but then I'm not sure if it's illegal to do what he is doing.
posted by mathowie at 12:00 PM on January 30, 2003


Texas Tech is a state university and as such is subject to the 14th amendment. I'm not sure how the equal protection clause applies to letters of recommendation, but if this guy is really saying that he will not write letters for Christians who believe in creationism regardless of their performance in his class and regardless of their understanding of the science behind evolution, then it is (and probably should be) a problem for the school. In my mind there's very little difference between a policy of not writing recommendations for, say, women (because maybe the professor thinks that they don't have "scientific minds"), and a policy of not writing recommendations for people with certain religious beliefs.

also, even if intelligent design is completely wrong and evolution is completely right, scientists don't do themselves any favors by excluding people from science that don't accept their dogmas. Without skeptics, we'd never have scientific progress. Scientists should be welcoming the opportunity to debate rather than whining about the the evils of religion.

Finally, the vast majority of these students probably aren't going to go on to be evolutionary biologists anyway. Evolution is only one tiny area of biology with little practical importance. I've never understood why people get so crazy about it.
posted by boltman at 12:01 PM on January 30, 2003


Not only are students not entitled to recommendations, they are certainly not entitled to good ones. It is probably much better for any student who does not believe in evolution and wants a recommendation from this professor to be simply denied one, rather than having a bad one written. A bad recommendation, especially if the reader knows or knows of the writer, would absolutely sink even a fairly strong application, from what my professors tell me. Even a lukewarm recommendation would not be good if the application is not otherwise strong.

I'm not sure what would happen if this guy was sued and lost - if he was forced to be willing to write recommendation letters for people he felt were not up to par, that would not be good for them at all. This way the relevant students (if any even exist) know to go to someone else. This is a much more honest policy than the alternative, and in the long run I think it is more sensitive to his students.
posted by advil at 12:02 PM on January 30, 2003


Socially acceptable to ridicule religion? The prosecution rests....

Um, no. More like Able To Type And Click Post
posted by archimago at 12:04 PM on January 30, 2003


Not only are students not entitled to recommendations, they are certainly not entitled to good ones

They may not be entitled to them in general, but they might be entitled not to be denied them for unconstitutional reasons. Just like a state university couldn't refuse to hire someone because of their religion in most cases, a professor may not be able to refuse to write a recommendation solely because of the student's religious beliefs.
posted by boltman at 12:13 PM on January 30, 2003


Evolution is only one tiny area of biology with little practical importance. I've never understood why people get so crazy about it.

Whoa there, pardner. Evolution is at the very core of modern biology. It is the single unifying principle of biology. You can't do zoology, cellular biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, botany, immunology, microbiology, etc. without thinking about evolution. The study of human evolution is a pretty specialized field, but the idea of evolution by natural selection permeates all of biology.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:23 PM on January 30, 2003


what he ^ said
posted by bitdamaged at 12:30 PM on January 30, 2003


I admit that my knowledge of evolution is limited to high school biology. But I'd be interested to hear why you think that someone who believes in intelligent design could not be an effective molecular biologist or biochemist or any of those other categories you mentioned. Because I'm pretty sure that there are people that support intelligent design who also work in those fields.
posted by boltman at 12:41 PM on January 30, 2003


I admit that my knowledge of evolution is limited to high school biology. But I'd be interested to hear why you think that someone who believes in intelligent design could not be an effective molecular biologist or biochemist or any of those other categories you mentioned. Because I'm pretty sure that there are people that support intelligent design who also work in those fields.

Well, after you try and "exercise" the demons from your lab samples because they don't prove your pre-existing notions of the universe, ask the question again.
posted by CrazyJub at 12:44 PM on January 30, 2003


okay, so in other words, the only reason why they shouldn't be scientists is because they might have an ax to grind. does this apply to militant aetheist scientists as well? like stephen hawking trying to disprove his own earlier theories because they too strongly implied the existence of God?
posted by boltman at 12:49 PM on January 30, 2003


Sure, this Liberty Legal Institute is all for supporting the 14th amendment, but only when it suits them.

They are in favor of keeping sodomy legal in Texas, despite the fact that it is discriminatory to a group of people. They favor using the courts to force Bible clubs into schools, while at the same time trying to sue Gay-Straight Alliances out of schools. All this in the name of "protecting marriage and family" and of course only their definition of it.

Evolution is the basic core of all life on Earth. Creationism is a leap of faith.
posted by benjh at 12:58 PM on January 30, 2003


Something that I just realized, and that pisses me off about this: When creationists want to get their ideas into schools, they coat them with a veneer of science and try to pass them off as secular theories. Here, we have a professor addressing creationism on exactly that ground: he considers it an invalid secular theory, unworthy of an educated scientist. In response, the creationists say: "No, no, no, you can't do that. It's my religion!" So which is it? Is creationism an attempt at engaging in scientific debate worthy of an academic environment, or is it a religious belief? Seems to me that you can't have it both ways.

But I'd be interested to hear why you think that someone who believes in intelligent design could not be an effective molecular biologist or biochemist or any of those other categories you mentioned.

What I've seen the intelligent design people do in molecular biology/biochemistry is look at a system (flagellar motor proteins and blood coagulation cascades are popular examples) and declare that it's too complex to be a result of evolution. Which really isn't science so much as it is the statement of an opinion. Scientists working on these same systems have elucidated the evolutionary relationship of the parts of the system to one another and to related systems from which they evolved. The assumptions of the intelligent design people ("It's all just so complicated!") made it impossible for them to do this work; it made them ineffective scientists.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:01 PM on January 30, 2003


does this apply to militant aetheist scientists as well? like stephen hawking trying to disprove his own earlier theories because they too strongly implied the existence of God?

Whoa there boltman !!
Can you back up your wild accusations about Hawking?

Hawking, like any good scientist, always questions and explores different avenues. That does not mean he questions the existence of God. Quite the contrary from my readings of his publications he seeks to know "the mind of God."
posted by nofundy at 1:06 PM on January 30, 2003


ike stephen hawking trying to disprove his own earlier theories because they too strongly implied the existence of God

Do you have a cite for this? I've never heard that story before, and it sounds like propaganda to me.
posted by turaho at 1:08 PM on January 30, 2003


I feel as though my opinions on this matter are fairly analogous to my unpopular opinion on the recent Trent Lott affair (bear with me). First of all, I agree with thomas j. wise, that a professor does have the end say in who he issues his recommendations too. Similarly voters and parties have the final say about which elected officials should be forced to step down. But the more important question, in my mind, is the motive of the professor in the first case and the public in the second one in making their choices. In both cases I think that the motive for the actions taken borders on what I would define as a "thought crime" and therefore are unjustified acts.
In this case I believe that creationism is ignorance defined, and in the former that a nostalgia for segregation is heartlessness defined, but in both cases I do, indeed, believe that personal beliefs and personal work within a greater system of checks and balances and cooperation (government/science/education) are totally reconcilable. In fact, this reasoning is the whole basis for the compatibility of freedom of religion (i.e. personal belief) and separation of church and state (i.e. personal action within a controlled system). So in the case of this issue I will have to agree with the brilliant MattD when he says:

I think the professor has overstepped...If a creationist who can put aside his disbelief in evolution so thoroughly as to learn and evidence enough knowledge in evolutionary theory to get an "A" in undergraduate biology, and is so foolish as to wish to pursue graduate studies in biology, he is entitled to that recommendation.

Though I wouldn't go as far as to use the word entitled, but I do think that a student's Creationism, by itself, is very poor grounds for refusal.

And I would also agree with the brilliant mathowie when he says:

Seriously, over the years of my scientific training, I've written more than my fair share of english papers and philosophy papers extolling the virtues of the professor's favorite poet or philosopher, even though I didn't believe a word of it.

You can still have religious freedom, just answer his question with scientific fact.


Similarly, and for the same reasons I agreed with the brilliant Son_of_Minya when he said regarding the Lott affair*:

I really don't give a damn what the cracker believes, so long as he doesn't want to make laws about it. Honestly, I could care less how racist anyone in government is. Most of these people believe in a man who lives in the sky and sends rabbits to give them candy...I don't think a little racism is going to make them any more dangerous.

Where he stepped over the line was saying, basically, "there should have been laws to keep black people down." He should have said, "I wish black people would just go back to Africa...but there's not really anything I can do about it because I love the Bill of Rights." Would anybody have seen the difference, though? He'd probably still have to step down, because he's a racist.


In both cases it should be assumed that ones personal belief is irrelevant and of a separate concern than their competence and ability to work within the system. In both cases the system is designed to bring us full personal freedom while at the same time maximizing its own effectiveness while shielding itself from chaos. I believe that this is the important idea that our governmental and scientific institutions are predicated on.


*Just to clarify, Minya agreed with the Lott outcome, but his statement still applies in a way I find important.
posted by dgaicun at 1:10 PM on January 30, 2003


intelligent design
snicker
Is that what god is being called these days? One Nation, Under Intelligent Design . . .
In Intelligent Design We Trust . . .
posted by archimago at 1:15 PM on January 30, 2003


Back to Dini...

Because I'm pretty sure that there are people that support intelligent design who also work in those fields.

Then this Kelly guy should try to find one of them at Texas Tech. The point is, it's 100% Dini's choice in this matter. If he thinks belief in creationism will keep someone from being a good scientist, then he shouldn't have to write a rec for the person. If he thinks eating aerosol cheese will make someone a bad scientist, he has the right not to write a rec for them, either.
posted by gramcracker at 1:58 PM on January 30, 2003


So which is it? Is creationism an attempt at engaging in scientific debate worthy of an academic environment, or is it a religious belief? Seems to me that you can't have it both ways

Sure you can have it both ways -- all you have to do is lie. You can stand up and bear false witness to a judge, who the Bible will tell you is one of God's ministers doing God's work in the world, when you tell the judge that you're just interested in good science education and any religious correlation is a wacky coincidence, or you can lie to a congregation of people assembled for the worship of Christ when you tell them that you're working to bring Bible religion back into the schools.

Both are far and away unworthy of any professing Christian and examples of depraved wickedness, but easy enough to do.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:05 PM on January 30, 2003


Socially acceptable to ridicule religion? The prosecution rests....

OK, Durwood. I'll bite. Yes, it's socially acceptable to ridicule specific, extreme, fly-in-the-face-of-reason religious beliefs. Now explain to me why it shouldn't be that way.

If my religious beliefs included parading down public thoroughfares, slapping my exposed buttocks with rotting haddock carcasses while singing the theme song to "Howdy Doody", why shouldn't I be ridiculed for that?

Anyone holding onto demonstrably false concepts, such as creationism or epicycles or alchemy or phlogiston or the four element theory or the Earth being the centre of the universe or any of the other once-believed-but-now-discredited ones deserves only ridicule and scorn from an educated and enlightened populace.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 2:05 PM on January 30, 2003


"Socially acceptable to ridicule religion? The prosecution rests...."
Turdwood, if you think that what is discussed on MeFi is somehow representative of what is "socially acceptable" then I guess you are dumb enough to believe in Adam and Eve. And that's something I would never say to someone in real life, because it is so obviously NOT socially acceptable.
posted by Outlawyr at 2:06 PM on January 30, 2003


Some interesting books on the subject:

Tower Of Babel by Robert Pennock.
Annals Of The Former Word by John McPhee. (This book is a great primer on geology and geological time.)
Night Comes To The Cretaceous by James Lawrence Powell.
Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel Clement Dennett. An excellent overview of evolutionary theory in philosophical as well as scientific terms.

And of course...

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Amazing how few fundies have actually read this book.

posted by mrmanley at 2:19 PM on January 30, 2003


The professor's position...represent another sad example of how it has become socially acceptable to ridicule and demean religion.

Is it finally acceptable to ridicule and demean religion? Thank God. Why is it that religious beliefs are supposed to be sacred? Why should you be safe from challenge on this point, just because you bundle your beliefs into a body of dogma and give it a name?

If it is to be acceptable to ridicule and demean anything, shouldn't it be precisely the indefensible, uncritical, most deeply held, intransigent convictions that are most deserving? Whether they be labeled "science" or "religion" or "cultural heritage" or any other name?
posted by dilettanti at 2:19 PM on January 30, 2003


Me and my fat fingers. Sigh. I meant "Annals of The Former *World*" by John McPhee.
posted by mrmanley at 2:22 PM on January 30, 2003


I feel compelled to mention that Fundamentalist Christians are not the only segment of the religious world to disagree with evolutionary theory. Muslims can be just as nutty as Christians in this regard. Not surprising since they pray to the same Big Guy, I suppose.
posted by mrmanley at 2:29 PM on January 30, 2003


I almost forgot one of the best books!

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.

This book is the perfect rebuttal to the "intelligent design" wonks who always bring up the human eye or ear as examples of design. Dawkins shows, painstakingly and in detail, how these organs evolved over time.
posted by mrmanley at 2:32 PM on January 30, 2003


mrmanly: the book in your link, plus many more islamic anti-evolution books were sold on the same shelf as The International Jew by Henry Ford in the Islamic bookstore next to the Macdonalds in the mall near my house in Malaysia. Interesting reading while one chows down on a Big Mac.
posted by dazed_one at 2:41 PM on January 30, 2003


Hypothetically, what's to say that God couldn't have chosen evolution by natural selection as his method to create the world?
posted by Vidiot at 2:43 PM on January 30, 2003


Actually, evolution informs many areas of biology. While not many people may specialize specifically in evolution, whatever you look at it, you can look at it in terms of what evolutionary function that structure/process/etc. serves; evolution is the why behind traits. So it's pretty important, and it's reasonable for the professor to refuse those who disagree with him. After all, if you remove the element of choice, what point is there in having recommendations to begin with? This isn't random discrimination, it has an actual effect on their work in biology
posted by dagnyscott at 2:48 PM on January 30, 2003


Vidiot - a relatively literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.
posted by kavasa at 2:52 PM on January 30, 2003


Okay, after doing some reading, I have to concede that I was a little bit harsh on Hawking in terms of his motives. Apparently nobody's really sure what he believes about God. But he did write papers and argue that the universe had a beginning in the Big Bang for the first half of his career (what he is famous for) only to change his mind later in his career and decide that the universe in fact didn't have a beginning and an end and is "self-contained" thus leading him to question whether there is really a need for "a creator." Apparently, the science behind this shift is extremely questionable (involving a controversial and unproven theoretical concept called "imaginary time"). So I will graciously concede that there's no credible evidence (that I could find) that he's motivated by an animus toward God.

But I think my point stands -- there are plenty of scientists out there that are actively hostile to God and religion and feel that it is their job to "cure" religous people of their ignorance. Aren't they just as likely to be biased--and thus bad scientists--as intelligent design people?
posted by boltman at 3:03 PM on January 30, 2003


My point was that believing in science and evolution and all that isn't necessarily incompatible with a belief in God. I'm a Christian (of the quasi-enlightened, progressive, non-evangelical type, thank you) and I think that evolution is correct and that Genesis is an interesting creation myth. (It appears that chapter 1 and chapter 2 of Genesis disagree with each other about the creation of man, anyway.)
posted by Vidiot at 3:05 PM on January 30, 2003


Hypothetically, what's to say that God couldn't have chosen evolution by natural selection as his method to create the world?

the whole point of evolution is that it's the natural result of random chance. So it would be believing in a god who chose to run things as if he didn't exist. Which is fine, I guess, but not how most christians usually interpret their world.
posted by mdn at 3:22 PM on January 30, 2003


Which is fine, I guess, but not how most christians usually interpret their world.

I've been waiting for a chance to post a link to this excellent blog.
posted by furiousthought at 3:38 PM on January 30, 2003


there are plenty of scientists out there that are actively hostile to God and religion and feel that it is their job to "cure" religous people of their ignorance. Aren't they just as likely to be biased--and thus bad scientists--as intelligent design people?

Most scientists who are hostile to religion aren't really hostile to religion but to faith, because faith (where faith means "belief without evidence") is the opposite of science. A good scientist doesn't rule anything out, and lets the evidence inform his theory without bias (in other words, the evidence will show what it shows, and the scientist will formulate a theory based on the evidence, which will change depending on what any new evidence implies), someone who a priori believes in a supernatural cause (i.e. intelligent design) isn't letting the evidence form the theory, but making the evidence fit the theory. They already believe that there's some form of divine intervention at work, they're not starting with looking at what the evidence tells them, but with a belief that there is intelligent design in the first place. Also intelligent design is fundamentally based on bad science ("things are too complicated to have formed naturally" is meaningless in a scientific sense).
posted by biscotti at 3:40 PM on January 30, 2003


Turdwood?

I guess you're trying to make his point, huh Outlawyr? If you don't think MeFi discussion is indicative of what is "socially acceptable", then why run screaming to personal attack? Its obviously socially acceptable to diss religion around here, as it is in broader society. If you haven't said such things in "real life" I suggest that you're afraid to. I have, and they have been met with un-pc disdain by the religious around me. But they're all afraid of voicing such lament because I have rights! They respect what I believe in; can you claim the same?

What I think durwood was getting at (and correct me if I'm wrong) is that it is easy to judge this case if you take the ridiculous nature of religion as prima face, either for or against. And to do so, on either side, is disrespectful, and lazy thinking.

What is at hand here is the rule of law, not the efficacy of religion. To debate the validity of religion is somewhat annoying and avoiding the point; especially if we follow the MeFi norm that all religion is goofy ...
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:48 PM on January 30, 2003


I believe in the basic idea of evolution (though more "Lucifer Brain" evolution than the survival of the fittest individual evolution)- just had to get that out there as the last time this was discussed, I felt I was giving the impression that I was


Every single scientific "fact" is no more than this: A best fit for current data. If new data comes along, you try and replicate it, if it holds up, you develop a new theory. That is how science works, some scientists may get dogmatic, but they are not practicing good science when they do so. Indeed, the particulars of evolution have changed many times since its initial development. But the data on macro level evolution is extremely strong. No, its not as strong as the earth going around the sun, but its pretty overwhelming.




Yes! Finally. I read through the thread asserting that evolution was fact and- as a philosopher- sweating, thinking- "the ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes, the rest is theory."

Nothing can be proven

Sure you can say that gravity is a fact, and drop something and watch it plummet to the floor, but there is no way to say with certainty that this will keep happening. You could keep repeating the experiment infinitely but the possibility of gravity stopping always remains...

And for chris(?) Science, as much as any other system of thought is based on metaphors as, in order to explain anything we need to use language, and language is merely a symbol for a something. If I type whale, I have created the word "whale" but the word is not equal to having an actual whale.

Remember that science is only theory to prevent it from becoming dogma in the same way that religion has. But Freyeraband said it far better than me....

Having said that (personal pet peeve-sorry), as a former confirmed catholic, I never understood why christians couldn't reconcile the science of evolution with the bible. Must every single word be taken literally? And if so, what about the books left out?
posted by drezdn at 3:53 PM on January 30, 2003


I love the term "intelligent design" always just makes me think of that old movie "The gods must be crazy" where a pilot flying over Africa drops a coke bottle out the plane window that hits a wandering tribesman in the head. Since the tribesman can't explain what the heck a coke bottle is he decides the gods are pissed and he's got to throw the bottle off the "edge of the world".

The issue becomes that the really good scientists are the ones who don't just write things off to being "too complicated" and therefore the work of a religious entity or "demons" or whatever is just simpler to accept.

In fact the ones that are more apt to actively hostile are the ones that are more apt to be better scientists since they are not going to give up figuring something out while they know there is a scientific explanation
posted by bitdamaged at 3:54 PM on January 30, 2003


In fact the ones that are more apt to actively hostile are the ones that are more apt to be better scientists since they are not going to give up figuring something out while they know there is a scientific explanation.

Which completely disregards the idea that we may never have a "scientific" explanation to every question, and that the religious explanation may be just as "truthful" as the combative "scientific" one. At what point does one "know" anything? Why is it so widely held that all religious truth is in conflict with science?

(two dimensional strings, cold fusion ... yeah I love those)
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:02 PM on January 30, 2003


Why is it so widely held that all religious truth is in conflict with science?

Because religious truth and scientific theory are gained in entirely different ways; one through revelation, and the other through rigorous testing of hypotheses. It's not the beliefs themselves that are necessarily in conflict, but how one arrives at them.
posted by Silune at 4:14 PM on January 30, 2003


*previous post lost to temporary "site not responding" glitch, grits teeth*

1. Theist ! = creationist (see under: Vidiot).

2. Dini's point is not that he won't, willy-nilly, write recommendations for Christians or any other type of theist; in fact, his letter is very carefully worded so as to make that clear. Rather, it is that he cannot (I'm using that word advisedly) in all honesty write a positive recommendation for any student who cannot under any circumstances compartmentalize his or her creationism when it comes to biology. (I somehow doubt that he'd accept Native American creation myths, either.) That's because he thinks that creationism is not simply wrong but, more seriously, actively harmful to the practice of scientific inquiry in the field of biology as it currently exists.

Aside to Wulfgar: I'm not sure that Dini believes that religious truth is incompatible with science. As a former Christian brother who was educated in an almost exclusively Catholic environment, he may well have encountered J. H. Newman's argument that science cannot conflict with revealed religion; for Newman, such apparent conflicts would always be resolved by future research that might demonstrate the science or wrong, or by the realization that perhaps the revelation had been misinterpreted, or by the realization that maybe the revelation wasn't a revelation. Newman had no trouble with Darwin and would probably not have been sympathetic to the folks protesting this man's decision.

(Incidentally, I'm a Jew who writes about Victorian evangelicals. Because many in my primary audience will be practicing Christians of one sort or another, I also need to "compartmentalize." More to the point, if I don't compartmentalize, I can't be sure that I'll fully understand what it is I'm talking about--Christian theology being awfully complex at times. If I were going to run around arguing that evangelicals were all wrong because, well, Christianity is all wrong, I would fully expect that a) no Christian colleague in the field of literature and religion would take me seriously and b) that none of them would ever agree to write me a recommendation. Or, at least, not a recommendation that I would ever want in my file.)

3. On the "obligation" issue: people sometimes forget that recommendations don't just speak to the "knows well" and "got an A" issue. They also include what is euphemistically known as "collegiality." You really don't want a letter that includes the line "by the time he was done with his degree, everybody hated him" (liberally rephrased from a real letter). All of these things are fair grist for a referee's mill. I'd add to #3 in my previous post: make sure that the professor thinks that you're a decent human being. There's a reason that you really, really don't want letters to be an obligation--because I've seen some letters that were clearly written grudgingly, and, um, let's just say that they sank the applications 100% of the time.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:14 PM on January 30, 2003


Evolition's been discusses many times before here...and everytime, all I can think of is going to a Catholic High School in Atlanta, and not one person objected to evolution. The teacher just clearly stated at the beginning of the semester, "Evolution does not disprove God or even say we came from apes or whatever. Its simply a way to explain how species are where there are today." Worked for me, and still does.
Also...I'm all for this guy coming out and saying this. I think its a load of crap that its such a big deal though. I'm going into pharmacy and need reccomindations. If someone won't write me one for believing in Intelligent Design, then by all means, let me know!!! As long as you don't give me a long lecture how i'm below you, I'll move on.
posted by jmd82 at 4:34 PM on January 30, 2003


Wulfgar -- If an athiest scientist comes across an Unanswerable Question (I can't think of an example of this having happened) and fails to recognize it as such, we've lost nothing. If a creationist scientist comes across an answerable question and dismisses it out of hand as unanswerable (as has happened many times; see Dawkins' example about the evolution of the eye), an avenue of good research goes unpursued.
posted by Tlogmer at 4:46 PM on January 30, 2003


Hypothetically, what's to say that God couldn't have chosen evolution by natural selection as his method to create the world?

Nothing, hypothetically, but since it is pretty much entirely unnecessary to explain life, there's no reason to believe it. It's like if I asked you why cars move down the road, and you explained to me about the internal combustion engine, how fuel works, how friction works, et cetera, that pretty much gives an adequate description and needs nothing appended to it.

So, if you went on to tell me that the reason the internal combustion engine et al, works is because a wizard casts a spell on your car every time you put the key in, I would have no reason to believe it. It might interest me as a piece of trivia, but the more I studied automobiles, the more irrelevant the whole wizard thing would become, until eventually I realized it was just some nagging, unverifiable, totally useless baggage.
posted by Hildago at 5:25 PM on January 30, 2003


It might interest me as a piece of trivia, but the more I studied automobiles, the more irrelevant the whole wizard thing would become
The difference between the combustable engine and evolution is that man created the engine- we did not create evolution. What we call Evolution is an attempt to explain how we are the way we are today. We know why an engine works...We can hypothisize all we want about evolution and natutal selection and such, but do we really know what makes evolution work?
posted by jmd82 at 6:19 PM on January 30, 2003


I have a question. Is it possible for something to exist even though it is totally inaccessible to any of our five senses?
I suppose that is where faith comes in...perhaps I look at the same set of facts that the typical evolutionist looks at and come to a totally different yet logical conclusion. Since I am a person of faith naturally I have a particular starting place and viewpoint. I also happen to believe that an atheist would bring a whole different set of suppositions to the table when looking at a set of particular facts.

For example, my spouse tells me there are all kinds of marine fossils on top of mountains in Colorado, and he has seen them himself since he grew up there. I would see that as evidence of a great flood, and I would take the whole set of "great flood" stories of various cultures as a confirmation of such an event. I imagine any atheist on this thread would have a totally different take on all this.

Anyhow, if humans did evolve, then natural selection has really screwed up.
posted by konolia at 7:15 PM on January 30, 2003


We can hypothisize all we want about evolution and natutal selection and such, but do we really know what makes evolution work?

Well, maybe not, but does that mean that the addition of intelligent design to the equation would make things more certain? My point is, it never clarifies anything, it only adds an extra step.
posted by Hildago at 7:17 PM on January 30, 2003


I suppose that is where faith comes in...perhaps I look at the same set of facts that the typical evolutionist looks at and come to a totally different yet logical conclusion.

I think Dini's point is that given the current set of facts that relate to Biology, a Creationist model is not a logical inferrence to make.

For example, my spouse tells me there are all kinds of marine fossils on top of mountains in Colorado, and he has seen them himself since he grew up there. I would see that as evidence of a great flood, and I would take the whole set of "great flood" stories of various cultures as a confirmation of such an event. I imagine any atheist on this thread would have a totally different take on all this.

It's the difference between saying that there was water there at some point and saying that God flooded the earth to purge it of everything He wasn't satisfied with. Only one of those statements follows from the premise.

Anyhow, if humans did evolve, then natural selection has really screwed up.

And who screwed up if God created us?
posted by Hildago at 7:44 PM on January 30, 2003


My point is, it never clarifies anything, it only adds an extra step.
My own personal beliefs aside, I honstly fail to see how this holds true in your own words. If anything it takes a step out, even if it dumbs it down. As alluded to earlier in the thread, some people of the scientific community may pop in the idea of ID when they learn about the complexity of life. At this stage, they in fact have a reason NOT to go another step. They have a reason - God - to explain all the insane complexities. I'm not claiming that is the *right* choice on their part to stop there, but it could in fact actually element steps of further research. Or, on a much more basic level, people may not take ANY steps b/c they just through in God. May not be the most intelligent choice (no pun on words), but it still elemenates extra steps. Plus, in the above people's minds, I would say ID in fact clarifies things in their own mind, even if it is not the correct clarification.
posted by jmd82 at 8:17 PM on January 30, 2003


...We can hypothisize all we want about evolution and natutal selection and such, but do we really know what makes evolution work?

Well, sure. Genes make it work.

Evolution works through natural and sexual selection, where those that are better able to survive to breed, pass on their traits. Its pretty straightforward and requires no outside force or reason for why it works.

Talk-origins is a great site for this sort of information.
posted by bshort at 8:57 PM on January 30, 2003


If anything it takes a step out, even if it dumbs it down

It adds an element for which there is no concrete evidence, which muddies things. Science is based on concrete evidence. As Hildago said, the marine fossils are evidence of there having been water in that area at some point (determinable from the fossils and the ground they're in), it's a huge leap with no supporting steps along the way from there to add a "creator", it's not a logical conclusion - there's no evidence of a creator, only of marine life (which, you'll note, doesn't preclude there having been a creator, but there's no scientific indication of one, and this is science we're talking about).
posted by biscotti at 10:07 PM on January 30, 2003


what vidiot said.

if you interpret the bible literally and you believe the blah blah was created in seven days then you also have to take literally the part of the bible where it said that to god a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years i.e. time is relative to god, he can slow it down or speed it up or do whatever he wants really.
and if these guys were really taking it literally , they would acknowledge the pope as head of the christian church.
I wonder what explanation they have for that one.
ps it was a catholic priest who invented the big bang theory, not a scientist.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:44 PM on January 30, 2003


Speaking of taking the bible literally:

"if a man have a stubborn and rebellious son.... bring him unto the elders of his city... And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, thathe die; so
shalt thou put evil away from among you...."

god
Deuteronomy 21:18-21
posted by jeblis at 12:17 AM on January 31, 2003


If this had happened anywhere else than the American South I'd have said the students' religious beliefs were of no interest and no relevance to the professor. If they pass the tests and show aptitude and enthusiasm then what more do you need? But I don't think this would have happened anywhere else.

You have to applaud this professor, who must be sick of, and angry over Creationism (which must be taken seriously by a fair number of people in the South).

That must be what's behind it.
posted by Summer at 2:41 AM on January 31, 2003


And who screwed up if God created us?

We did. And did a royal job of it while we were at it.
posted by konolia at 3:28 AM on January 31, 2003


if humans did evolve, then natural selection has really screwed up.

And why is that, exactly? Evolution isn't a process to create a superior being. There is no "end result" of evolution, no ideal that is slowly being reached. Sorry, I know it was just a flippant answer, but that is a common misconception of evolution, that we are somehow "improved" by evolution. We're not.

I think that's part of the reason evolution offends fundamentalist Christians so much. Evolution puts man and beast as equals, therefore we're no longer special in God's eyes. I think they'd have an easier time believing there is no God, than accept that God has no special purpose in mind for man.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:23 AM on January 31, 2003


So I will graciously concede that there's no credible evidence (that I could find) that he's motivated by an animus toward God.


Boltman, thanks so much for "graciously conceding" that your wild, unthoughtful, uninsightful and just plain wrong accusations about Hawkings are not credible.

But I think my point stands -- there are plenty of scientists out there that are actively hostile to God and religion and feel that it is their job to "cure" religous people of their ignorance.

Of course you follow up your "graciousness" with another wild, totally unprovable, made-up statement about the existence of "plenty" of scientists whose only goal is to "cure" religous people of their ignorance. If you read some more perhaps you will graciously concede the point that scientists only "cure" people of their ignorance coincidentally by investigating, discovering, formulating theories and doing all of that good stuff that religious fundamentalists do not.
posted by sic at 4:35 AM on January 31, 2003


Mendel, an Augustinian monk, was an early researcher into inherited traits. His work became the grounding for modern genetics.
Not sure what relevance this has, but the discussion reminded me of the fact. Some more history of science.
posted by asok at 6:17 AM on January 31, 2003


And who screwed up if God created us?

We did. And did a royal job of it while we were at it.


Really? Do you happen to know the name of the person who failed to put eyes in the back of my head, leaving me highly vulnerable to attack from behind? And who only gave me one spine, and only one heart? (Hasn't he ever heard of redundancy?) I have a lawsuit waiting for him.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:42 AM on January 31, 2003



Evolution isn't a process to create a superior being.

Oh, really? Then what is the point? After all, evolutionists would have us believe that life is getting more and more complex and adapted to its environment to ensure "the survival of the fittest".

There is such beauty and order in the natural world. I choose to believe a creative and wise God created it all in order to enjoy it. I recall at one point God regretting He had made man, and looking around at all the chaos and destruction we have brought to the earth, I can understand why.

But as to regrets, God provided a way to redeem man and his mess but most men reject it as they seem to have other business to take care of.
posted by konolia at 8:02 AM on January 31, 2003


Evolution isn't a process to create a superior being.

Oh, really? Then what is the point? After all, evolutionists would have us believe that life is getting more and more complex and adapted to its environment to ensure "the survival of the fittest".


*sigh* There isn't a point. That's the point. Go and do some reading.
posted by Summer at 8:12 AM on January 31, 2003


recipe for mountain elevation marine fossils:

take a life-rich sea environment, collect dead bits and shells on the sea bed to create sediment. Add pressure and millions of years. You now have sedimentary rock. Crash tectonic plates carrying the sedimentary rock into one anther for millions of years to create mountains.

flavor to taste.

*this is a much easier method than that old traditional "Soak with flood for 40 days", and doesn't require--like the entire planet--to be submerged in order to have some shellfish die on a mountain top. Is there even enough water to do that?
posted by th3ph17 at 9:01 AM on January 31, 2003


konolia: The point is that evolution favors those individuals, and eventually species that are most suited to their environment. That's why human's have been so successful, we are the single most adaptable species on the planet.

"I choose to believe "

And that's exactly the reason that this professor would not give you a recommendation. A scientist must be open minded. You've been presented with a series of facts, and since they don't meet your preconceived ideas of how the world works, your choosing to ignore them. You choose to be ignorant rather than accept that our species isn't special.
posted by betaray at 9:29 AM on January 31, 2003


Anyhow, if humans did evolve, then natural selection has really screwed up.

you've got a double standard going on if you blame natural selection for our faults under evolution, but not god for those same exact faults under creationism.

Anyway, at least you admit that you choose to believe in creationism, not because the evidence is more compelling but because it provides results that make you happier.
posted by mdn at 9:37 AM on January 31, 2003


I blame mankind for the faults.

As to creationism, I believe it because it is true. But I am not going to tell you I am certain HOW God created everything. That doesn't matter to me as much as the fact that He DID create it.
posted by konolia at 10:58 AM on January 31, 2003


matt ? how long did it take you to create the world ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:21 AM on January 31, 2003


You believe it because it is true to YOU.
posted by agregoli at 11:23 AM on January 31, 2003


As to creationism, I believe it because it is true.

*checks script*

"But, how do you know?"
posted by Silune at 11:24 AM on January 31, 2003


this whole 'god created the world thing' has gotten way out of hand. She merely came up with the idea one night while drunk, and some 8th dimension engineering students a table over thought it would be a kick to try. Much Different. The guy who designed male pattern baldness flunked--thank goodness, and damn him.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:31 AM on January 31, 2003


I recall at one point God regretting He had made man

Is this an admission, then, that God changed his mind? That it is possible for God to commit error? That God is not infallible? It seems to me that if He regretted his previous action, then either that action was wrong, or else the action was right, in which case He was wrong to regret it.

[Sorry, this is completely off the evolution topic, but it's such an interesting theological question I wanted to explore it further.]
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:18 PM on January 31, 2003


It's an admission against interest, and therefore an exception to the heresay rule.

"As to creationism, I believe it because it is true."
Oh my god, I never had it explained to me like that. Now I clearly see that you are correct. Yes. I was blind but now I see. Oh lordy lordy I see the light. Thanks so much for enlightening me.
posted by Outlawyr at 1:44 PM on January 31, 2003


[make that "hearsay"]
posted by Outlawyr at 1:45 PM on January 31, 2003


As alluded to earlier in the thread, some people of the scientific community may pop in the idea of ID when they learn about the complexity of life. At this stage, they in fact have a reason NOT to go another step. They have a reason - God - to explain all the insane complexities. I'm not claiming that is the *right* choice on their part to stop there, but it could in fact actually element steps of further research.

Jmd --

You're right, of course. I was assuming that the person was interested in the simplest and most verifiable and most informative answer -- I meant the most scientific. If what their only criteria is that it gives any old explanation for the phenomenon, then I guess it would just be simpler to anthropomorphize the universe, or just say "a wizard did it" for everything, and boom, you've got a grand unified theory. My mistake was that I forgot people don't always care if the answer they have is any good. Anyway, thanks.
posted by Hildago at 2:30 PM on January 31, 2003


People who piss on religious beliefs are as annoying as people who try to ban the teaching of evolution in schools. In the end, people will believe what they want to believe, and that's fine. The universe still works regardless of how you choose to explain it.

That being said, people who reject evolution despite all the evidence to support it just because it doesn't fit within their belief system, or even worse willfully lie to further their anti-evolutiuon agenda, would make horrible, horrible scientists.

Just like atheists would make horrible, horrible priests.
posted by turaho at 3:22 PM on January 31, 2003


I guess I'll try and clear up one common misconception being argued over - the idea that evolution is a sort of "improvement" or heads toward some goal.

The term "survival of the fittest" is a little misleading this way since it makes it sound like the genes are striving to adapt and acquire whatever trait it is they need. In reality, it is just randomness. Things evolve in many ways - say one type of critter ideally would have a longer neck to reach some higher food. Evolution doesn't strive to do this, it just happens by pure chance. Some of the animals will develop this longer neck purely by chance (not by an attempt to reach the food), while just as many (or more) develop shorter necks which ultimately doom them. "Survival of the fittest" is more about pure luck - this certain creature happened to develop a trait that helped them out, while others developed something else that was useless. There's no ladder evolution is trying to climb. It's just by chance.

That's how I understand it and the best I can word it (at least right now).... Someone please correct me if I'm wrong!
posted by swank6 at 3:48 PM on January 31, 2003


swank6 - I think what you said reads pretty well actually. (And nice nod to Lamarck.) I was reminded that chance plays a huge role in the nurture (non-genetic) part as well - a brilliantly adapted trait can render an organism totally vulnerable if there's a radical environmental change. If the survival rules change, evolution has to proceed in another direction with whatever material it's got left.
posted by synapse at 4:28 PM on January 31, 2003


Okay, sic, if you're going to be nasty about it, how about explaning why someone like Hawking would abandon the mainstream theory (which he helped establish) that the Big Bang represents was the moment that the universe was created in order to adopt a theory involving a purely hypothetical and unproven idea of "imaginary time" which effectively denies that there was a moment of creation. Could it be that he was uncomfortable with the idea of a creation moment because that itself would imply the existence of a "prime mover"? IF I'm correct that this was the motivation behind his theory, this would be an example of an a priori assuption or preference guiding supposedly "scientific" inquiry. (My mistake was I had thought Hawking had actually expressed this preference. I still think he might have, but I couldn't find any evidence of it in my brief google search).

The fact is that all scientists are going to bring their biases and beliefs into their work. If a scientist is an aetheist, he is likely to interpret scientific evidence that would suggest the existence of God to an "unbiased" observer in a way that does not involve God, no matter how tortured the reasoning required. If a scientist firmly believes in God, he will likely bring biases to his work as well. My point is that it is ridiculous to claim that theists are going to be poor scientists because of their a priori beliefs while giving aetheists a free pass. Both have biases that are not based in science and observation, but faith.

Incidently, I find it totally pointless (albeit marginally interesting) to debate whether scientific evidence points toward or away from the existence of God. In the Judeo-Christian tradition anyway, our primary means of knowing about God is through his interaction with us (both personal and Scriptural). It might have been C.S. Lewis that noted that trying to understand God through the physical unverse is like trying to understand an architect by looking at a house he built. You might be able to make some observations about His personality, but you can't actually find the architect within the house itself. But if scientists believing in intelligent design want to use the scientific method to try and prove their theory, what right do other scientists--all with their own biases and beliefs about the world--have to bar them from the scientific community?
posted by boltman at 4:42 PM on January 31, 2003


Several of you need to read "Science of Discworld." It uses the wizards at Unseen as a method of examining the history of our universe and evolution on this planet.

It explains why statements like "then what's the point [of evolution]" are absurd nonsense. Asking that kind of question puts one at about the same intellectual level as asking "then what's the point of blue."

Of course the people who could most benefit by it are the selfsame people who steadfastedly refuse to relieve themselves of their ignorance.

"None are so blind as those who will not see."

IMO, there's good reason for these people to persist in their ignorance and in not thinking clearly: if they were to admit a little bit of the light of rational thinking, their shakey religious belief system would likely come crashing down on them.

That said, if their faith is helping them be a better person, what's it matter what they believe? There's only one life to live and nothing afterward, so if it makes their life a happier, more fulfilling one with greater action towards supporting the common good, then let 'em keep faith!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:30 PM on January 31, 2003


Both have biases that are not based in science and observation, but faith.

You haven't shown that atheist scientists have biases based in faith, and that, even if they do, such biases cause any a priori assumptions. Your a priori assumption is that such people would ignore convincing, truly scientific evidence that there was a God, when no good scientist, atheist or otherwise, would do so, any more than they'd ignore convincing evidence that whales evolved directly from land mammals, no matter what their prior beliefs about whale origins were. Good science involves constantly re-evaluating your theories, no matter how firmly you think they're correct, in light of new evidence.

The problem with ID scientists as regards true science is that they already believe they have the answer (God did it), and try to make the evidence fit it, without regard to what the evidence actually says from a scientific standpoint. This is not proper scientific method, and therefore their conclusions are suspect, as are the conclusions of any scientist who doesn't follow proper scientific method. Scientific method is used because it provides a clear, orderly and reproducible path to evaluating evidence, it's not based on faith, it's based on logic and proven efficiency.

I don't know enough about Hawking to address your point about him, but it seems clear to me that you're making a huge assumption about his motivations, in order to make his actions fit your theory.

I'm not religion bashing, it's none of my business what people believe, I'm merely pointing out what look like errors to me. It's one thing to have faith in something, it's another to try and prove that faith is based in scientific fact.
posted by biscotti at 6:56 PM on January 31, 2003


Even if Hakwing had an agenda to disprove the existence of God, if his theories were absolute bullshit (like creationism), they would get blown out of the water. It doesn't matter what the motivations are to bring a hypothesis to the table, if it can't stand up to the scientific method and peer review, it's worthless.

Creationism (read anti-evolutionism) is bad science, not because it came from a fundametalist reading of the bible, but because it plays fast and loose with observable phenomena. Intelligent design is bad science because it seeks to artifically limit the scope of scientific enquiry. If you don't want to play with the rules of science, either don't be a scientist or play by the rules to prove that evolution is a crock. Dini had left it nice and open--if you can give a scientifically sound explanation for creationism, you get a letter of recommendation. Who knows? Maybe it is out there, but if you haven't discovered it and your only justification for belief is because a book told you so, that's not good enough.

The problem being, of course, that creationisists can't do that, no matter how hard they try.

Oh, and Boltman?

My point is that it is ridiculous to claim that theists are going to be poor scientists

No one has claimed that a belief in God makes someone a bad scientist. We're merely saying that someone who ignores the evidence that science is dedicated to examine because of their faith is a bad scientist.
posted by turaho at 8:47 PM on January 31, 2003


Intelligent design is bad science because it seeks to artificially limit the scope of scientific enquiry.

This is the heart of the problem with the your position, I think. There is no question that intelligent design stems from a priori assumptions about the world. I readily concede that point. But it simply does not follow that allowing ID believers to become scientists will "artificially limit the scope of scientific inquiry." On the contrary, it will almost certainly have the opposite effect because it will force the the pro-evolution people to have to come up with evidence and arguments to counter the evidence and arguments of the ID scientists. (note: if they were fighting to have evolution banned from the classroom, that would be a different story. that would be bad. but these poor kids just want to get graduate degrees in biology).

Think of it like the legal system. You have two lawyers, each arguing their side. In questions of fact, one lawyer is inevitably arguing against the truth. Often neither lawyer has the facts quite right. The idea is that through the adversarial process, the truth is more likely to be discovered/refined. I suppose we could have an inquisitorial system where you have no lawyers and just a bunch of judges that go out and try to figure out the facts for themselves. But then there is no check on any conscious or unconscious biases that the judges may have. In addition to the normal biases (dislike of the defendant, political concerns, etc) judges may have seen dozens of similar cases and thus have an expectation that the facts will turn out a certain way. In other words, they can and will become dogmatic if they are not forced to listen to and take seriously fresh perspectives on the evidence. Just like scientists that believe that evolution as we currently understand it so impervious to criticism that anyone seeking to challenge it is not worthy of being called a scientist.

I don't have any particular problem with scientists having a priori assumptions about how the world works whether they be of the theistic or the atheistic persuasion. The cosmologist and atheist Martin Rees wrote a book trying to explain away the remarkable and highly improbable "fine tuning" of the cosmological constants to allow the development of life in the universe (strongly suggesting intelligent design) by positing an infinite number of other universes all with their own cosmological constants that would not support life. Now that sounds kind of desperate to me, but that's fine. More power to him, I say. Even if his theory is based in a desire to remove the need for a Creator from the universe, surely it adds to scientific inquiry rather than detracting from or "limiting" it. Other scientists with more of a theistic will no doubt take issue with his ideas and healthy debate will ensue. So, just like with lawyers in a courtroom, the scientists duke it out and our understanding of the facts are improved.
posted by boltman at 10:52 PM on January 31, 2003


it simply does not follow that allowing ID believers to become scientists will "artificially limit the scope of scientific inquiry." On the contrary, it will almost certainly have the opposite effect because it will force the the pro-evolution people to have to come up with evidence and arguments to counter the evidence and arguments of the ID scientists.

First off, this prof isn't preventing anyone from becoming a scientist, he's just not willing to write a recommendation for creationists unless they can explain creation theory scientifically. And your above statement doesn't make sense: ID scientists are starting from a position of accepting nonscientific, untestable, faith in the supernatural as concrete fact directly related to their work, this is not science, this is the opposite of science. They cannot argue against a scientist about science, because their definition of science is fundamentally flawed - if you accept as fact things which cannot be tested you are not practicing science. You can't argue against the "evidence and arguments of the ID scientists", because the former doesn't exist in a scientific sense and the latter is based on faith in things which are fundamentally unscientific. You can't pit faith against science in the same argument, they're fundamentally incompatible, because the set of rules for each are incompatible. There is no need for a creator or prime mover in evolution theory, because the evidence doesn't support one (not because one doesn't exist, necessarily, but because the available evidence doesn't support one). The only evidence for ID is its believers insistence that it exists, there is nothing repeatable, nothing testable, nothing scientific about it - how do you test a theory which boils down to "the natural world is too complex to have been an accident"? It's not based on science, it's based on faith. And it's fine that people believe that, but their belief in it doesn't make it science.
posted by biscotti at 11:34 PM on January 31, 2003


scientists that believe that evolution as we currently understand it so impervious to criticism that anyone seeking to challenge it is not worthy of being called a scientist.

I agree. Science is all about challenging theories as new evidence becomes available, it's about searching for the best theoretical explanation which grows from, and is supported by, the evidence, about getting closer to ultimate truth, good science is never complacent and never believes that it has all the answers. But good science is not about making leaps of faith, which is what Intelligent Design does.
posted by biscotti at 11:40 PM on January 31, 2003


he's just not willing to write a recommendation for creationists unless they can explain creation theory scientifically.

No! He's requiring them to affirm that they "truthfully and forthrightly" believe in the "scientific" explanation for the origins of humans. If he was asking them to demonstrate their understanding of the theory of evolution, there would be no problem. He wants them to "affirm" it, like you affirm your belief in God when you get confirmed in church. Presumably anyone who asserts a belief that God played a role in the origin of humans will be rejected, since this is not "scientific." That is not troubling to you in the least?

As for your other arguments, isn't science about proving hypotheses right or wrong? Evolution people are saying, "evolution happened--here's our evidence to prove it." ID people are not saying, "your theory is wrong because it contradicts the Bible." Rather, they are saying that "your evidence for evolution is flawed because if fails to take into account scientific facts x, y and z." Now the ID people may be wrong, but their arguments are most assuredly scientific. They are not appealing to the existence of God as proof that evolution is wrong. Their belief in God is merely their motive for studying evolutionary theory from a critical perspective. It would be no different than if two scientists bet their life savings over some unresolved scientific question. One would no doubt work as hard as he could to show whatever result would win the bet for him and the other scientist would work as hard as he could to prove the opposite result. As long as they used the scientific method to pursue their goals, both would be practicing good science. It's the same thing with the ID people and the evolution people. Just because they have motives and a vested interest in the outcome, doesn't by itself mean they are incapable of producing scientifically valid research.

Personally, I really don't care whether the ID people or the evolution people are right. I do find it offensive that this guy is pressuring students to abandon their religious convictions in order to get a recommendation from him. I more or less accept evolution and natural seclection as reasonable theories that are probably correct as far as they go, but I would not pass this guy's test because I also believe that God structured evolution to ultimately produce human beings. Should I not be able to go to medical school because of this belief, assuming that I am otherwise qualified?
posted by boltman at 12:35 AM on February 1, 2003


But it simply does not follow that allowing ID believers to become scientists will "artificially limit the scope of scientific inquiry." On the contrary, it will almost certainly have the opposite effect because it will force the the pro-evolution people to have to come up with evidence and arguments to counter the evidence and arguments of the ID scientists.

Boltman, you are really starting to sound like the kind of people being parodied in the recent moon debunking thread. A sample:

Question #2: But don't all qualified scientists and astronomers agree that there is a moon? Indeed, but shouldn't one be suspicious of such unanimity, when universities are supposed to be forums for open debate of controversial issues. Even a layperson like myself knows that scientists are not supposed to approach issues with preconceived notions. Yet this principle is cast aside when the moon is at stake. You will never see the revisionist perspective on the moon being taught in institutions of higher learning, even as a controversial opposing view. In fact, in order to even become a recognized scientist in the current atmosphere of academic repression, one must pay lip service to the establishment’s orthodoxy. Could you imagine a student who argued the revisionist viewpoint on the question of the moon being awarded a degree? He would be hounded out of the university in an instant! How can one explain such behavior from institutions that are supposed to serve as forums for the free exchange of ideas, except to conclude that the establishment has something to hide?

A) One mans refusal to write a personal letter of recommendation is not tantamount to "ID believers" not being able to "become scientists". Ones ability to work competently within their education and, subsequently, within their field will ultimately prevent their exclusion from the places they are needed, regardless of their personal beliefs. Though I have already agreed that articulation of the science should be necessary while testifying allegiance to it should not.

B) These amusingly termed, "pro-evolution people", are about as urgently in need to debunk "ID", as the "pro-round-earth people" are to debunk the idea that our disk-shaped planet is resting on the back of 16 giant elephants. I'm sorry, but 'ID' is nothing even resembling science, much less a coherent bar-room argument. Here is but one of many long critiques explaining why "god in the gaps" is not science.

The cosmologist and atheist Martin Rees wrote a book trying to explain away the remarkable and highly improbable "fine tuning" of the cosmological constants to allow the development of life in the universe (strongly suggesting intelligent design)

A) It is not just atheists who reject ID. Many Christians and theists (including cosmologists) have been able to reconcile their spiritual and scientific pursuits, and this pre-dates even Darwin. Clearly the very idea that the two can (and should) be separate escapes you.

B)The so-called "fine tuning" of the universe to support life, and the idea that it "suggests ID" is hog-wash. The very idea that the laws and properties of the universe could be anything but what they are is one in complete lack of support. Also, even if we hypothetically decide that they could exist differently, that still precludes us from arguing that no other form of intelligence could emerge within said "alternately calibrated" universes. These "impossible odds" brand arguments are pretty weak. Were the odds of a "life-supporting universe" or of "life-developing", or of "life developing into us" unfathomably high? Maybe. But so were the odds of 200,000 years of human movement and activity culminating in the exact meeting and pair-bonding of my exact parents, and at the exact time necessary to produce this exact conscious being. One might surmise that to take such as a coincidence must take a lot of "faith", and that the whole of human history was fine-tuned by some higher hand all for the purpose of producing me. As attractive as that idea may seem to everybody, I (unfortunately) think it fails for many of the same reasons. (and this is not an atheistic argument)

Could it be that he was uncomfortable with the idea of a creation moment because that itself would imply the existence of a "prime mover"? IF I'm correct that this was the motivation behind his theory, this would be an example of an a priori assumption or preference guiding supposedly "scientific" inquiry.

Your Hawking theory borders on paranoia. No theory, including the allegedly abandoned one, implies a "prime mover", to Hawking or anyone but the most desperate apologist. Not only does the "first cause" argument contradict its own premise (i.e. If everything needs a cause, then what caused God?), but it makes many wishful and fanciful suppositions as well. Why, for instance, does this "prime mover" have to be a conscious will?

You seem to be uninterested in the most important thing that biscotti has been trying to tell you, boltman: Religion is not science. That is not an atheistic argument, it is, in fact, totally unconcerned with your spiritual beliefs; it's just a statement of fact that the transcendent has no proven or even intended capacity to explain and/or dissect the material universe. Religion is about the subjective, the personal, the internal, the numinous. Religion can ask questions (or the question) of 'Why?', but it is totally unequipped, as a tool of thought, to successfully work with questions of 'How'? Religion is predicated on faith, not evidence, and faith and evidence are two different things. Religion is based on the transcendent, and the spiritual, and the supernatural; these things, by their very definitions, are beyond the scope of sensory search or discovery. If Religion were based on evidence, the idea of faith would have been irrelevant. Religion would simply be a part of regular scientific inquiry, and its separate designation would be superfluous. The "true" religion could be methodically ascertained with the scientific method, and would necessarily be taught in school, like math, and its discovered truths, like other facts, would ethically need to be incorporated into our laws. For instance we aren't (or shouldn't) be allowed to, say, shoot people at random, or burn down all the trees, b/c the facts inform us that people and trees aren't infinitely regenerative. Similarly, if "hell" was a scientific fact, it would probably be lawful to send your kids to Sunday School (think of it as a the mother of all seat-belt laws.). It is this Western idea of compartmentalizing the realms of religion and law/science/institution that makes the separation of church and state possible. The idea is that religion can only be an interference when it steps outside its perfectly beautiful domain as an internal and personal knowledge. When religion is taken outside of its proper faith-based context it immediately begins to impoverish and severely undermine itself, and it becomes a terrible nuisance to others, at best, or a terrible danger to them, at second best. Religion is based on internal truths, but when someone trys to retrofit those internal truths into external realities, they will necessarily fail. This forces their position to move into two unfortunate tactics to recover itself: 1) bad thinking 2) dishonesty (of the willful and unwillful brand). What I am seeing here, boltman, is that you are using your religion for purposes that it is ill-suited to work towards. I think it is kind of sad that you need to look and invent places for God's magic finger to work within the healthily independent physical and mechanical processes of nature to buttress the significance and joy of your beliefs. I only hope that you continue to develop a stronger and more self-sufficient faith that you can find your comfort in, because right now I am seeing a religion that is being unnecessarily practiced in a way that is both clumsy and insecure.
posted by dgaicun at 3:51 AM on February 1, 2003


Okay, much of this is nine hours old, bur I still want to say it.

I can only write from a sketchy memory here, but I believe that Hawking has been fascinated at least since the first edition of _A Brief History Of Time_, with whatever was happening just before the Big Bang. He wrestles (in the introduction or first chapter of that book, I believe) with some pretty extreme questions - e.g., if space-time blossomed into existence in the Big Bang (as all the evidence seems to indicate) then what meaning does time have in the pre-Big Bang moment? If there is no such thing as time, then how could any event (divinely ordained or otherwise) occur to trigger the Big Bang? I think his answer in that first edition was that the question of what happened "before" the Bang has no meaningful answer, because there was no such thing as time until the Bang occurred. I haven't kept up with theoretical astrophysics and cosmology, I'm afraid, but just from the sound of it, "imaginary time" sounds like Hawking's attempt to reconcile Big Bang theory with the principle of universal causality, and answer the question of what happened "before."

Anyway, the Prime Mover idea is not very robust, because even though it's derived from the principle of universal causality (i.e. every phenomenon is caused by a prior phenomenon), it violates that very principle by being a phenomenon that is not so caused. The only ways out of the causality paradox are infinitely regressive time (there is no beginning) or cyclical time (the end becomes the beginning).

Besides, the Prime Mover doesn't have to be anything remotely like the personal, quasi-anthropomorphic God of the Semitic religions. It doesn't have to have God-like qualities at all, any more than a pebble that starts an avalanche needs to be massive or mighty. It just needs to be a suitable seed to create the universe. So I doubt Hawking was freaked out by the thought that he'd have to start going to church because of Big Bang theory.

I'm still not sure why you're picking on Stephen Hawking as the archetypal atheist scientist, when Richard Dawkins probably fits the bill better than anyone.

As far as Prof. Dini requiring students seeking a recommendation to adhere to a particular orthodox scientific theory, that's not how the wording as quoted in the Houston Chronicle puts it. The issue is whether the student believes in an explanation derived from scientific principles. That could be natural selection, that could be punctuated equilibrium, that could be some combination of the two, or maybe even something else entirely, if the student could support it entirely with empirical evidence and not by referring to a purely textual authority (i.e. religious scripture).

In short, Dini is requiring that a student of science believe in science and the scientific endeavor - arguments from evidence, rather than from authority - as the best way to learn about the workings of the natural world. And how out of line is that? If science is not the best way to learn about nature, or if scientific findings can be overruled by religious dogma, then what is the point of doing science?
posted by skoosh at 4:59 AM on February 1, 2003


The only ways out of the causality paradox are infinitely regressive time (there is no beginning) or cyclical time (the end becomes the beginning).

I meant to include, "Or imaginary time, whatever that is." Damn.
posted by skoosh at 5:12 AM on February 1, 2003


Boltman, intelligent design is not synonymous with a belief in God. Intelligent design is the belief that some phenomena can't be explained by science. To use your lawyer analogy, imagine a lawyer who tried to get a case thrown out of court because hey, we'll never really know what happened that night, so why bother trying to decide what happened with a trial? That would be one terrible lawyer.

You also say that an ID believer could say "your evidence for evolution is flawed because if fails to take into account scientific facts x, y and z." But that's not their argument. Their argument is "your evidence for evolution is flawed because it's too complicated to work without an external force." That's not a scientific fact, that's an opinion.

And again, Dini is not asking that a student affirm evolution. He asks for a student to "affirm a scientific answer to this question." If a student wants to believe that the human species started in his basement, that's fine, as long as he can affirm a scientific answer to that question. But that student wouldn't be able to do that, the creationists wouldn't be able to that, and the IDers would be too busy stating their opinion to even start coming up with a scientific answer.
posted by turaho at 5:18 AM on February 1, 2003


"Intelligent Design" is nothing but a pseudo-science.

Skeptics Dictionary:

ID isn't a scientific theory and it isn't an alternative to natural selection or any other scientific theory... Empirical theories are about how the world appears to us and have no business positing why the world appears this way...ID is a pseudoscience because it claims to be scientific but is in fact metaphysical...The ID proponents are fighting a battle that was lost in the 17th century: the battle for understanding Nature in terms of final causes and efficient causes. Prior to the 17th century, there was no essential conflict between a mechanistic view of Nature and a teleological view, between a naturalistic and a supernaturalistic view of Nature. With the notable exception of Leibniz and his intellectual descendents, just about everyone else gave up the idea of scientific explanations needing to include theological ones. Scientific progress became possible in part because scientists attempted to describe the workings of natural phenomena without reference to their creation, design or ultimate purpose.

Americans United For the Separation of the Church and State:

Scientists flatly reject intelligent design as non-scientific and a thinly veiled attempt to bring religion into public schools. When ID supporters speak of a "designer," critics note, they’re clearly talking about God. As a result, when ID advocates ask for time in science classes, they are no different than other creationists who want to preach a religious message to students...Because the Discovery Institute’s representatives could not point to any scholarly research to support intelligent design – no peer-reviewed academic journal has ever published anything lending credence to ID concepts – they tried to convince the board members that teachers should "teach the controversy." In other words, students should be told about evolution, and then they should learn why creationists don’t like it.

The only problem with that approach is that there is no debate in the legitimate scientific community.


Why Intelligent Design Isn't Science:

A. ID leaves the designing intelligence unexplained in the same way as ID claims that "irreducible complexity" is left unexplained by Darwinian selective processes, but worse, since it offers no specific hypotheses or mechanisms. ID hasn’t produced an explanation, it simply pushes the demand for explanation back a step and so is otiose. Thus:

B. ID posits an extra entity unneeded for explanation, so violates parsimony and simplicity (1)

C. ID seeks explanations outside of well-substantiated, empirically-supported phenomena without fully investigating the adequacy of explanations which restrict themselves to such phenomena. ID is thus not conservative in its explanations, but is instead inflationary .

D. ID doesn’t specify how design is carried out: no mechanism or process is proposed, and further, no means of discovering this mechanism is proposed. The mechanism remains unacceptably mysterious with no hope of being clarified.

E. ID supplies no observational or inferential evidence for a designer that specifies or predicts its specific characteristics.

F. Since no mechanism or process is shown by which intelligent design works, the designer posited by ID is left unconnected to other phenomena .

G. ID lacks any explanatory or predictive power; it is unproductive:

----ID doesn’t predict biological features that arise as change occurs in organisms.

----ID doesn’t explain the particular biological mechanisms that are found in organisms.

----ID can’t explain patchwork, jury-rigged, or sub-optimal organic "designs."

----ID doesn’t suggest any experiments to prove the design hypothesis.

----The designer assumption does no real explanatory work; it simply pushes the question further back .



The so-called "argument from design", no matter how far it is reduced or rephrased, hasn't had any legs since even before William Paley. Let's keep religion out of science, and it will gladly return the favor.
posted by dgaicun at 5:33 AM on February 1, 2003


Intelligent design is the belief that some phenomena can't be explained by science.

What you're all missing here is the fact that while ID may not be able to produce an appropriately "scientific" answer to the question of how human beings originated, it can potentially demonstrate problems with the current theories of evolution. The "irreducible complexity" argument may not be "scientific" as an explanation for the origin of life, but it does raise scientific questions about the validity of evolution as it is currently conceived. The fact that its not predictive doesn't make it invalid as a criticism of evolutionary theory. If I, as a lawyer, argue that the suspect could not have been at work at the time of the murder because he had not punched in and none of his coworkers saw him there, the strength of my argument that he was not at work is not undercut by the fact that I have no evidence of where he actually was instead.

Also, if it's not true that certain features of life are "irreducibly complex" then let them hash that out through experimentation and analysis of the evidence. If the ID people can credibly show (and I have no idea if they can or not) that the theory of evolution cannot explain the golgi apparatus or whatever it is that they talk about, then why should the evolution people not have to answer that criticism? Instead of dismissing the ID people as quacks, maybe, just maybe, mainstream scientists ought to think about devising a way to prove that gogli apparati did develop through natural selection. Maybe the ID people are correct that the current theory doesn't explain it. Maybe there's a better theory out there that doesn't necessarily involve divine intervention. Rather than simply scoff at ID, maybe mainstream scientists ought to think about responding to it scientifically.

And none of you answered my final question. Imagine that the vast majority of biology teachers across the country had a policy like Dini's. I am a bio-major looking to go on to med school and become a family practitioner. I have steller grades in bio. Yet, I believe that evolution is not random but guided by God with the ultimate purpose of producing human beings. Under Dini's crtieria, I cannot get any recommendations since I do not believe that evolution is ultimately random and thus, I cannot go on to medical school. In other words, I must abandon my religious beliefs in order to be a doctor. How is this not discriminatory?

Again, I don't consider myself in the ID camp. My defense of the ID position is driven mainly by my frustration with the incredible dogmatism of the scientific community when it comes to ideas that they find to be upsetting. But Dini's requirements really have little to do with ID specifically. Requiring students to "affirm" that human beings originated through the random process of natural selection is patently discriminatory toward anybody that believes in God, including those of us that accept evolution as an accurate description of the process by which humans were created. Read the requirements again:

If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will ask you: "How do you think the human species originated?" If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences.

"God created humans using evolution as His means" would not, as far as I can tell, be an acceptable answer to this question. I ask again, how is this not discriminatory?
posted by boltman at 1:52 PM on February 1, 2003


The "irreducible complexity" argument may not be "scientific" as an explanation for the origin of life, but it does raise scientific questions about the validity of evolution as it is currently conceived.

No, it doesn't. There is no scientific evidence, not even the remotest indication, that such a thing as "irreducible complexity" exists, it's an invention of the ID groups, based on belief, not science. One does not call science into question based on faith. Your whole argument rests on something unprovable by science - asking scientists to prove (or disprove) something which has no relation to science in the first place (which is, by its very nature, unprovable by science) is a logical impossibility.

Nobody is stopping anyone from continuing their education, there are plenty of theist scientists of all flavours, including Christian. They manage to reconcile their beliefs with their science.

how is this not discriminatory?

Again, you're confusing religion and science. The issue isn't whether the professor in question disagrees with your religious choices or not, that has nothing to do with anything, the issue is whether or not you accept scientific reasoning and process or not. In this professor's estimation, if you reject scientific process, then he cannot, in good faith, give you a recommendation. He's not making judgments about people as people, he's making judgments about their abilities as future scientists, which is well within his job description. A recommendation is an opinion, just as you wouldn't ask for a job reference from someone who fired you for cause, so you shouldn't ask for an academic recommendation from someone whose opinions about valid science are in conflict with your own. It would be discriminatory if the basis for the refusal was something unrelated to the discipline the recommendation is for, like race, or food preferences, or favourite authors. In this professor's estimation, someone who insists on ignoring scientific method (for whatever reason) would not make a good scietnist.
posted by biscotti at 3:31 PM on February 1, 2003


What you're all missing here is the fact that while ID may not be able to produce an appropriately "scientific" answer to the question of how human beings originated, it can potentially demonstrate problems with the current theories of evolution

Except it hasn't. ...D'oh.

The "irreducible complexity" argument may not be "scientific" as an explanation for the origin of life, but it does raise scientific questions about the validity of evolution as it is currently conceived.

"Irreducible complexity" is nothing short of a scam objection. Please read the talk origin link I provided boltman, it deals with these issues quite thoroughly. ID is necessary to raise questions about evolution like "moon debunking" is necessary to raise questions about astronomy.

My defense of the ID position is driven mainly by my frustration with the incredible dogmatism of the scientific community when it comes to ideas that they find to be upsetting.

Please describe a legitimate idea that the scientific community has "dogmatically" refused to consider. So far it seems as though your upset only b/c science rejects ID, and you are unable to disconnect the scientific from the religious.

scientists that believe that evolution as we currently understand it so impervious to criticism that anyone seeking to challenge it is not worthy of being called a scientist.

This statement is beyond absurd. The mechanisms of evolution are hotly debated within the scientific community. (read Defenders of the Truth to see the incredible amount of debate that goes on within evolutionary biology). You shouldn't make-up arguments about things you obviously know nothing about.

I have steller grades in bio. Yet, I believe that evolution is not random but guided by God with the ultimate purpose of producing human beings...I must abandon my religious beliefs in order to be a doctor. How is this not discriminatory?


What you have just described is not a religious belief but a proclamation of a mechanism for how things happen (ed). It is not discriminatory to require you to support statements of fact with the appropriate methods of science to obtain any sort of credit for courses in science. To again quote Matt:

You can still have religious freedom, just answer his question with scientific fact.

If the professor is still failing students (after meeting Matt's criteria), then it is discriminatory, IMO (see "thought crime" rant). But that is what the investigation is for. Neither of us know at this time if that is the case. It very well might not be.

ID is not making religious claims boltman, it's making scientific ones. A professor who refuses to reward outrageously unscientific claims is committing "religious discrimination" only in the mind of someone who is unable to differentiate religion/faith from science.
posted by dgaicun at 4:05 PM on February 1, 2003


There is no scientific evidence, not even the remotest indication, that such a thing as "irreducible complexity"

Well, there are bona fide scientists such as this one that disagree with you. He teaches biochemistry at a prestigeous university. Maybe he's wrong. But he is clearly a scientist.

As far as your other points, I think we just disagree as to what Dini is requiring his students to affirm. I read it as basically disavowing any belief that God played any role in the creation of humans. You seem to think that he is asking students to affirm their faith in the scientific method as the best way to do science. Perhaps you are right as to his intent, but I still think think that his wording as well as the way that he applies the question specifically to the human species rather than life in general suggests that he was aiming specifically at religious belief and theological understandings about the origin of humans. If he were to rephrase his question to something like: "If you want a recommedation I will ask you to truthfully and forthrightly affirm that you accept the scientific method as the best way to study biology," I would have no problems.
posted by boltman at 4:05 PM on February 1, 2003


Alright, just noticing biscotti's reply I see I basically added nothing. Sorry biscotti!
posted by dgaicun at 4:18 PM on February 1, 2003


There is no scientific evidence, not even the remotest indication, that such a thing as "irreducible complexity"

Well, there are bona fide scientists such as this one that disagree with you. He teaches biochemistry at a prestigeous university. Maybe he's wrong. But he is clearly a scientist.


So now everything a professional scientist claims is scientific? News to me.

There is no maybe about it, boltman, Behe is a crank.
posted by dgaicun at 4:21 PM on February 1, 2003


What you have just described is not a religious belief but a proclamation of a mechanism for how things happen

Perhaps then, dgaicun, you might explain how a person who believes in the traditional Judeao-Christian God could reconcile this belief with a belief that evolution is an essentially random process with no goal or final product? If there is no way to do so, then all Jews, Christians, Muslims, and most other theists would not be able to get a recommendation from Mr. Dini. Now imagine all biology professors had the same requirments as Mr. Dini. Only atheists (and liers I suppose) could pursue advanced degrees in biology or become doctors. While I get the sense that would suit many of the posters here just fine, it can't be called anything other than discrimination.

Behe is a crank


Obviously Lehigh doesn't think so. I'll put more stock in their judgments than in yours, thank you very much.
posted by boltman at 4:26 PM on February 1, 2003


boltman: please see here for a pretty thorough refutation of Behe's theories. It's better worded than I could possibly manage and extremely thorough in terms of references. To paraphrase from there: the ID argument begs the question, begging the question is a classical logical error - it assumes there is "design" involved in the first place, thereby making it logical to look for a "designer". There are numerous quotes lower down on that page from scientists, some of them Christian, which refute Behe. And being an associate professor doesn't mean everything that drops from your brain is truth (I should know, my husband is one ;) ).
posted by biscotti at 6:02 PM on February 1, 2003


Perhaps then, dgaicun, you might explain how a person who believes in the traditional Judeao-Christian God could reconcile this belief with a belief that evolution is an essentially random process with no goal or final product?

Maybe in the same way "traditional" Christians and Jews dealt with the 6 day creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, Galileo, and Darwin. Seems easier than you're making it, but whatever.

I can't help it if you set yourself up for spiritual and intellectual disaster by deciding to predicate your religion on bad science, but I'll tell you this much- many other Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. didn't, and their faith and science are reconciled quite impeccably.

I suggest you stop trying to use your faith to contradict science, boltman; you are diminishing both in the process and embarrassing yourself.
posted by dgaicun at 8:02 PM on February 1, 2003


I can't help it if you set yourself up for spiritual and intellectual disaster by deciding to predicate your religion on bad science, but I'll tell you this much- many other Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. didn't, and their faith and science are reconciled quite impeccably.

please, spare me the ad homenim, dgaicun. It just makes you look shallow and mean-spirited. you don't know anything about my faith. In fact, I could care less from a spirtual perspective whether we evolved from apes or we didn't. It's simply irrelevent to me. As I said above, I don't put myself in the creationist or ID camp and, frankly, I think that much of what they are trying to accomplish--while undoubtably good for science as I've argued above--is a waste of time spiritually. Science (with the possible exception of cosmology, see above) has little capacity to provide evidence for or against the existence of God. bicotti's link points out, accurately I suspect, that even if the ID people succeed in poking holes in evolution, that doesn't mean that they've provided evidence for God.

I am concerned when people use evolution as proof that religious faith is silly and misguided. biscotti's link suggests that evolution is available to both atheists and theists. I wholeheartedly agree. But Dini is requiring students to deny that God had any hand in the creation of human beings. This is not just aimed at creationists and ID proponents (although I would object to it even if it were). Nobody who believes in a Creator-God could take his pledge, whether they accept evolution as the proximate cause of the existence of humans or not. If God meant for you and I to exist, the processes by which we came to exist are, by definition, not random. They may seem random from a scientific perspective, yet to a theist, they cannot be.

Here's perhaps the most important point, and then I think I'm done with this thread: It is not the students that are seeking to inject their religious beliefs into the classroom here--it is Dini seeking to force his belief system on his students. It's not enough to affirm that evolution is a theory that has substantial scientific evidence to support it. Students have to "truthfully and forthrightly affirm" their belief in evolution. Note that he even phrases the requirement as though he views it as a belief system. This is essentially prostelytizing on the part of Dini and it is inappropriate, especially given the power he exerts over the students as distributor of recommendations.
posted by boltman at 12:58 AM on February 2, 2003


please, spare me the ad homenim, dgaicun. It just makes you look shallow and mean-spirited.

This is stretching the definition of ad hominem past its limitations. You have repeatedly insinuated that theists require some degree of ID pseudo-science for their faith. You are the one who sincerely asked:

Perhaps then, dgaicun, you might explain how a person who believes in the traditional Judeao-Christian God could reconcile this belief with a belief that evolution is an essentially random process with no goal or final product?

When in fact many Judeo-Christians do this! So, I do know a little bit about your faith. I know what you have clearly demonstrated about it in this discussion. I'm sorry if it makes me mean-spirited or shallow to have a strong distaste for faith interfering in the realm of science, but I would like it if, as a parent someday, I won't have to deal with people and their dysfunctional faiths trying to push pseudo-science into my childrens classroom. Seeing as how you are sincerely doubtful that someone can be a Christian without believing in the scientific claims of ID, then I have no choice but to believe you have a dysfunctional faith, at least in that aspect of it. I'm sorry.

But Dini is requiring students to deny that God had any hand in the creation of human beings.

Nobody who believes in a Creator-God could take his pledge, whether they accept evolution as the proximate cause of the existence of humans or not.


Dini's letter said: 'If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will ask you: "How do you think the human species originated?" If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences. '

I both can see your concern, and disagree with you in some measure. First of all he didn't say "believe", that was your confabulation, he said "How do you think" human life originated (yes, words do have relevant shades of meaning). Second, I do understand that how his request is phrased might still be problematic for some (I have affirmed this from the start). What the students internally feel on the matter could very well have a religious aspect to the grand equation, and that should be assumed and strategically avoided in a better way (the fact that he didn't might suggest your suspicion, but I also think we have no right to be anything but agnostic about "discrimination" until the investigation is complete). A simple rephrasing of the question would have been:

'If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will request of you: "Tell me scientifically how the human species originated." If you cannot provide for me a purely scientific summary to this question , you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences. '

In reality this question is virtually identical, and I understand why many people could wonder why there is even a controversy in the first place. But I do believe that there should probably be a "don't ask, don't tell" brand of policy in universitys to keep educators out of people's private beliefs, that would be compatible with the academic requirement.

So boltman, if we consider the question in the way I have phrased it, is it still discriminatory to you? I can't imagine that it is, unless you think facts themselves are discriminatory against your religion. You may surely believe that God created the universe, and purposely intervened in the affair of evolution x amount of times to ensure it would result in life and eventually man, but it is crucial that you understand, that that has nothing to do with and no place in science at this point in time.
posted by dgaicun at 7:21 AM on February 2, 2003


I would be happy with this:

If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will request of you: "Explain the theory of evolution." If you cannot demonstrate an understanding of this theory, you should not seek my recommendation.

Anything beyond that is interfering with students religious freedom.

As for your other points, your comments only make it obvious to me that you have not carefully read my other posts. That or you are willfully misreading what I have said. Either way, I have no interest in debating further with someone that substitutes insults for meaningful discussion.
posted by boltman at 7:41 AM on February 2, 2003


Either way, I have no interest in debating further with someone that substitutes insults for meaningful discussion.

I see not one insult. It is a fact that you have repeatedly confused faith for science. I have taken that no farther than to point out your error, and if I have I apologize.

If God meant for you and I to exist, the processes by which we came to exist are, by definition, not random. They may seem random from a scientific perspective, yet to a theist, they cannot be.

Yes, but "if God meant for you and I to exist" is not a question that has scientific evidence or concern. It is a question that is based in faith. They do not seem random, from a scientific perspective, they are random from a scientific perspective, and, contrary to your suggestion, Theists do accept this from a scientific perspective*. Evolution is "random" (the result of homo s. sapiens was not guaranteed by the process) as far as science is concerned, boltman. That it is part of the answer to a scientific question. Theistic intervention is not a scientific proposition. What you believe should be irrelevant to the question, yes, but if you cannot answer this request...

If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will request of you: "Explain the theory of evolution." If you cannot demonstrate an understanding of this theory, you should not seek my recommendation.

...without revealing understanding that evolution is not somehow naturally working towards a purposeful goal, then you do not understand evolution scientifically.

If you can agree to that (as many other Christians do), then I promise I will take back all those "ad hominem" suggestions that you are confusing faith with science.

*Any Theistic assumptions about the universe are necessarily faith-based and occupy a separate and unrelated level of personal and internal understanding from scientific explanations (that is why they are not taught in schools).
posted by dgaicun at 9:24 AM on February 2, 2003


Once again, I recommend The Science of Discworld to both those who are scientifically illiterate, and those who enjoy science. Some of you desperately need to read it.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:58 PM on February 2, 2003


A little more information a week later, from the NYT.
posted by gramcracker at 9:16 AM on February 3, 2003


Thank you Gramcracker!

From article:

In an interview in his office, Dr. Dini pointed to a computer screen full of e-mail messages and said he felt besieged.

"The policy is not meant in any way to be discriminatory toward anyone's beliefs, but instead to ensure that people who I recommend to a medical school or a professional school or a graduate school in the biomedical sciences are scientists," he said. "I think science and religion address very different types of questions, and they shouldn't overlap."

Dr. Dini, who said he had no intention of changing his policy, declined to address the question of his own faith. But university officials and several students who support him say he is a religious man.

"He's a devout Catholic," said Greg Rogers, 36, a pre-med student from Lubbock. "He's mentioned it in discussion groups."

posted by dgaicun at 10:07 AM on February 3, 2003


« Older Keep off the grass...  |  The warm water ocean currents ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments