Skepticism, Religion Archive

Friday, March 21, 2008

Expelled from Expelled

Expelled Movie PosterThere's a new movie coming out called "Expelled," that maybe I'll get aruond to blogging about in more detail later (or maybe not). Its about the supposed close mindedness of the scientific community concerning Intelligent Design, how ID advocates have been unfairly discriminated against because of their views (I'm sure anyone reading this can guess how I feel about those two things), and supposedly even tries to link evolution to the Holocaust (actually, that last one does piss me off - it's an insult to all the people that suffered and died in that tragedy to use their memory for such a dishonest political purpose. Have they no shame?). Anyway, the biologist, blogger, and outspoken critic of ID/creationism, PZ Myers was interviewed for the movie (under false pretenses), and recently tried to attend one of the screenings. There was an online registration you had to complete before going, which he did. Well apparently, the producers had left specific instructions not to let Myers in, he was recognized him while he waiting in line, and was told to leave. Just imagine - a movie all about supposed suppression of free expression, asking a person they'd interviewed, to leave so that he couldn't see what they had to say or how he was being represented in their film. Oh, the irony. But that's not even the worst part. Myers was there with a few friends and family, one of whom was very notorious, who the security didn't recognize and was allowed to enter. Who, you ask. Well, go read Pharyngula to find out.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ray Comfort: Quote Miner Extraordinaire

Mining EquipmentI know I've written about Ray Comfort several times before (here, here, and here), and for a blog with as little output as mine, that represents a good percentage of my entries, but I swear I don't purposely go looking for Comfort's antics. However, I recently read a comment on Pharyngula about Comfort, that seemed so outlandish, I had to verify it for myself. And sure enough, it was true. Here's the post in question, for anyone that ones to see the full entry (warning - the comments section will draw you in like a train wreck; you want to look away, but can't, because you want to see what's going to come up next). Anyway, here's the relevant excerpt, where Comfort's discussing his upcoming book, Evolution A Fairy Tale for Grownups:

I have never claimed to be an authority on the subject of evolution, but I have quoted authorities. Lots of them. The publication is filled with quotes from the mouths of evolution experts who admit that they have nothing. They have no empirical evidence for the theory.

No doubt you will accuse me of "quote mining" (for those who don't know what that is, it's the practice of taking a quote--often out of its context, and using it in a way that was never intended by the author). However, every gold nugget is legitimately mined out of its context. No one seriously values the earth that encases the gold. So, when I uncover an evolutionary expert quietly admitting that he has no evidence to back up his theory, I don’t see any value in the soil of his surrounding words. I merely extract what I believe is of value for those who want to discover the truth about the theory of evolution.

I'm guessing that most of my family, friends and possibly a few other visitors that read this blog, probably don't follow the creationism/science "debate" as much as I do, and so may not have seen many examples of quote mining. Since Comfort's book hasn't even been released, yet, I obviously haven't had a chance to read the quotes he's talking about (and in all honesty, I doubt I'll ever read his book at all, given what I've seen of his previous output), but I've been following this debate for long enough now to have an idea of the way creationists distort people's original meanings when they quote them.

Continue reading "Ray Comfort: Quote Miner Extraordinaire" »

Friday, January 25, 2008

Abunga - The Close Minded Bookstore

Abunga LogoIt's Friday afternoon, I'm running out of time to meet my post per week goal, and I just don't have that much motivation, today. So, I'll just briefly discuss a topic that's been on a few other blogs, recently, the new online bookstore, It was discussed recently on Pharyngula (it even got a follow-up entry), and in an aritcle in the Knoxville News. From their home page, their logo is, "Empowering Decency as your Family Friendly Bookstore. Basically, they "empower decency" by only carrying books that they deem appropriate. Hell, I'll just quote from their site to explain what they do:

Abunga provides three levels of content filtering:
  • Internal Filter – We remove broad classifications of illicit materials by the information classifications set by the publisher. Currently, over 65,000 books are eliminated from our available inventory to protect your family.
  • Individual Customer Block - On any search, any Abunga customer member can click the block button and that particular book will never show up as an offering on their account.
  • Community Block – Abunga records your blocks and if a number of customers block the same product, Abunga will remove it from their offering.

Now, Abunga's perfectly within their rights to run a bookstore this way. I just think it's remarkably silly. As PZ Myers said in his first blog entry on the subject, "This makes no sense to me. There are a lot of books that I deplore, and the way I cope with them is that I don't buy them. I don't go to the manager and tell them that no one else should be allowed to buy them."
In some of the responses I've seen to people defending Abunga, they've brought up the, "but what about the children" defense. It's still silly. We're not talking about a brick and mortar bookstore, here, where a kid could just walk up and start thumbing through An Illustrated History of Pornography. It's an online store. The only way a book is going to be bought is if someone of legal age with a credit card orders it. Who's really being protected, here? And seriously, if you're that worried about your kid ordering illicit material from an online store, what in the hell are you doing letting them on the internet without any oversight?

There is at least one redeeming quality to the company - they donate 5% of every purchase to a charity that the customer chooses (from a list of pre-approved charities).

One last thing I want to point out, if you go visit their page, at least at the time I'm writing this, in the top left corner there's a little picture of a book with one of those "no smoking" type lines through it, right next to the words "Empowering Decency." In fact, I've copied it, and put it at the top of this entry. I think it's a little funny that the first logo you see on a bookstore is a symbol for "no books allowed."

So sure, Abunga has every right to run a bookstore this way, and their customers have every right to shop there. I also have every right to call them a bunch of close minded ignoramuses, and take my business to a company that's a little more open minded, and will let me decide what books I want or don't want to read.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Golden Compass - A Surprise at the Bookstore

Earlier this week, at the bookstore, I decided to have a look to see if they had Lyra's Oxford, a short book written by Phillip Pullman as a kind of mini sequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy. I'd already looked the book up on Amazon, and saw that it had a few extras included in it, such as a map of Oxford in Lyra's world, a postcard written by Mary Malone, and a few other things. So, when I saw the card board insert pictured below, at first I thought it was just another of those extras. However, on closer inspection, reading the back, I saw that it wasn't part of the book at all, but a tract produced by the evangelical, creationist organization, Living Waters Ministries.

Golden Compass Collectible Insert
Click on image for larger version, including back of insert - opens in new window

Continue reading "Golden Compass - A Surprise at the Bookstore" »

Friday, December 14, 2007

Texas Education Agency - Chris Comer

I've been very late in blogging about this - the story broke a couple weeks ago. Chris Comer, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency resigned. There's still a fair amount of controversy surrounding this. Many are quick to jump to the conclusion, which is based on Comer's side of the story, that her resignation was forced because of her support for evolution. In particular, she forwarded on an e-mail announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest, author of "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse," and a key witness in the Dover trial, which prompted an e-mail from Lizzette Reynolds calling for her to be fired:

This is highly inappropriate. I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities. This is something that the State Board, the Governor's Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports.

Well, I would hope the agency supports sound science teaching, but this e-mail wasn't an official TEA statement, so I'll move on. It was very soon after this that Comer was forced to resign, and the memo recommending her termination included the FYI e-mail as one of its reasons. So, it seems that her support of science was a big reason for her forced recommendation, but the only reason I'm holding out is because of the list of other reasons given in that memo. Comer and others called those other reasons trumped up charges, which they might very well be, but call me naive, I just really want to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I'm not going to assume that the people at the TEA are that malicious.

So, I'll hold off judgement on why Comer was fired, but another statement from the memo does damn the school board:

Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.

Must remain neutral?! Looks like Reynolds' statement wasn't so far off from what the TEA board thought as a whole. But it's all ludicrous. Isn't the TEA's whole raison d'etre to provide quality education to students? How can remaining neutral on the issue of science vs. pseudoscience be fulfilling that mission? What if Comer had forwarded an e-mail about a lecturer addressing issues of holocaust deniers or HIV denialists - is the TEA to remain neutral on pseudohistory and pseudomedicine as well?

Given that the current chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy, is a creationist (who doubts anthropogenic global climate change, to boot), and in the past has openly advocated Intelligent Design and old school creationism in the classroom (heck, you don't even need to look at his opponents - just go visit McLeroy's own site to see the type of craziness he believes in), and considering that school science standards are coming up for review in 2008, it makes Comer's resignation all the more fishy. I think everyone in this state needs to keep a close eye on how things play out in the coming months.

Much more information on this whole affair can be found at the website of the National Center for Science Education.


Selling Out