Qualified win

“Free” Schools won’t get public money to teach creationism. A rare bit of good news in UK politics, which seems determined to outdo its own Worst News record on a daily basis.

“Free” schools are a rubbish idea for so many reasons that adding creationism into the mix was almost superfluous. But, nevertheless, it was in there:

Several creationist groups have expressed an interest in opening schools in towns and cities across England, including Bedford, Barnsley, Sheffield and Nottingham. Critics say they seek to promote creationism, or the doctrine of “intelligent design”, as a scientific theory rather than as a myth or metaphor.(from the Guardian)

I’m not too sure about the wording of the exclusion, though:

Under the new agreement, funding will be withdrawn for any free school that teaches what it claims are “evidence-based views or theories” that run “contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations”.

This seems to spread the banned-ideas disturbingly wider than stopping science lessons becoming an outpost of bible study. It implies that “non-evidence-based” religious nonsense is fine – but, as “non-evidence-based” pretty well defines creationism, surely it will be allowed.

Maybe I’m being too bloody literal, assuming that words are supposed to have a meaning. Charitably, maybe it’s just that officials at the DofE aren’t allowed to release any document that doesn’t have the words “evidence-based” in it, even if they have only the vaguest idea what it means.

I’ll err on the side of optimism and assume that it won’t mean that schools can’t debate ideas that challenge “established” ideas about history and science, as, surely, that process would define a real education….

Genius

Facing the dole because of the cuts that have made the IMF so pleased with the Condem government?

(Who knew the IMF had a UK vote? To be honest, I prefer IKEA’s furniture.)

Well, you can now retrain for an easy and rewarding new career as a science journalist, thanks to Martin Robbins in the Guardian who has provided a template for any and every science article you’ll ever write.
This is a news website article about a scientific paper

It’s brilliant.

Eztra: I forgot to mention the links which are pretty funny too.

Quantum physicality

Quantum physics has become the new handbag-dog accessory for actors and tv presenters.

You think I’m making this up. Here are some sources:
Courtney Love
Anne Hathaway
Takulah Riley
Anne-Marie Jordan, Actress.
Josie Lawrence
Flux Theatre Ensemble

and so on beyond the point at which I can bear to google any more.

All-time best example of the emerging celeb-quantum physics crossover must be this one: Peaches Geldof in conversation with Fearne Cotton. Kathryn Flett provides an accurate transcript there. The most appealing quote is

“I’m really interested in quantum physics. Which is how I got involved in, like, spirituality and stuff, and, like, the religious path I choose to go down, and stuff.”

An odd aspect of a professed interest in quantum physics is the way it’s so often part of a worldview that involves “spirituality and stuff”

Here’s a youtube video where the fruit-flavoured Geldof offspring explains her scientology beliefs.

I have to admit that I don’t understand quantum physics. In my school Physics lessons I couldn’t master Mechanics, ffs. So maybe quantum physics does prove that any bullshit crap must be true. (There’s a good example on Ben Goldacre’s BadScience.net)

However, lLooking into it any further to check this out would involve me in having to do hard maths. Which I already know I couldn’t manage. So I may have to yield and accept the Z-list-Celeb Model of quantum relativity as the long-awaited new Theory of Everything.

Scienz teeching

This monumentally silly page on the CIF belief bit of the Guardian website was probably just there to stir up knee-jerk responses. (There are, naturally, thousands of comments.) But, hey, my reflexes are in pretty good shape. So, here goes.

Alistair Noble wrote that “Intelligent design should not be excluded from the study of origins”

As a former science teacher and schools inspector, I am disturbed that proposals for science education are based on near-complete ignorance of intelligent design. I also think the views of “most British people” in this matter should not be so readily set aside.

Even if it were true that “most British people” believed in ID, this doesn’t make it a valid scientific theory nor imply that “most British people” are qualified to decide what pseudo -science is taught in schools.

The fact is that that “most British people” (hmm, me included) don’t know enough about biology to get a GCSE in it. Choosing a theory of life is not like casting a vote on XFactor.

He argues that ID is nothing to do with religion; life is complex and beautiful; it seems designed so it must have been….

It is easily overlooked that the origin of life, the integrated complexity of biological systems and the vast information content of DNA have not been adequately explained by purely materialistic or neo-Darwinian processes. Indeed it is hard to see how they ever will.

But hey, this is not about religion….

It is an all too common error to confuse intelligent design with religious belief.

The intellectual dishonesty of this claim – that it’s not religiously based – is quite telling. What specific “science” did he teach?

If Intelligent design constitutes a good scientific theory, why draw the line at using it in biology? What about physics? What about cosmology?
“A magic man did it” applies even more aptly to these subjects, surely?

It’s certainly possible that our models of “evolution” will be proven to be false by some new and better explanation of biological processes. That’s science. ….. It is well nigh inconceivable that science will ever decide that the magic man is an explanation for anything.

Alistair’s Guardian profile says

Dr Alastair Noble is an educational consultant and lay preacher, and a former teacher and research chemist

Research chemistry? Why bother? Surely, the magic man made all the chemicals and chemical transformations. Why not just read Genesis instead of messing about getting research results?

Lay preacher? He argued that ID is real science, and can’t be confused with religion (see above) So his being a lay preacher is just a coincidence. Indeed a coincidence so uncanny that it can only have been designed by a superior being.

A few links, chosen randomly by my own intelligent design, to other blogs discussing this nonsense better than I have, and indeed, having done so in a rather more timely fashion.
evilburnee.co.uk
Wonderful life
Richard Dawkins, net

US Plans to Ban Irish Coffee….

Echoing the prohibition that hung round the great depression, the current global economic crisis seems to be encouraging people to ban things, almost at random.

From New Scientist:

THE US Food and Drug Administration is unimpressed by the fad for drinks that contain a double hit – alcohol and caffeine. Unless makers supply the FDA with scientific evidence that the drinks are safe they could be banned within months.

Another wonderful, yet unthinking, bit of legislation is sure to follow. Gone are the days when people can enjoy a cup of coffee with a shot of whisky after their meal. [Please feel free to twitter away on this!]

Darwin and the Tree of Life

Possibly the best “educational” program I have seen on television in as long as I can remember. Better than Michio Kaku, better than all the discovery channel shows, better than all the rest.

I am talking about a wonderful BBC1 program – Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life – which has just finished. If you missed it, I cant stress how much you really should watch this on iPlayer. It is a part-Open University funded education program, supported by an interesting BBC Darwin website, where you can catch a glimpse of the program if it isnt on the iPlayer yet.

In a nutshell, David Attenborough shows his fantastic qualities as a presenter and takes the viewer on a tour through the history of the theory of evolution. He is genuinely enthusiastic about the science and has a presentational style that is unmatched. I was actually saddened at one point in the program, when I realised that 30 years ago people were more accepting of evolution and our place in the world than they are today. Thanks to the idiocy of fundamentalist religion we really are going back in time.

Attenborough calmly and politely mocks the ideas that all species were created as they are with no change and gives a wonderful (if brief) example of how the eye is a good example of evolution at work. It is all well done and while the hardened scientist may object at some simplification, this is a program which explains evolution in an hour for the general public. To that end some abbreviation of the tree of life is understandable.

Sadly, the BBC website sort of undermines Attenborough’s fantastic work with this line:

David shares his personal view on Darwin’s controversial idea.

Now, while it was indeed controversial in the 1860’s it is now valid science with solid evidential backing. The controversy is not real. Implying it is still there plays into the hands of the idiots and anti-educationalists. Shame really.

This program shows that, despite its faults, the BBC really can pull it out of the bag when it comes to “important” programs.

Darwin is not the atheist god.

In today’s Guardian, Madeleine Bunting has obviously run out of things to write about and pulled a bit of a weird post about atheists and Darwin to try and stir things up (and she has succeeded here at least 🙂 ).

With a peice titled “Darwin shouldn’t be hijacked by New Atheists – he is an ethical inspiration” she generates all manner of fallacies and incorrect statements. Interestingly, she achieves this without actually saying much at all. What a wonderful example of how you can fill four columns in a national daily newspaper with, effectively, nothing. She is writing about 2009 being the “Year of Darwin” (as well as Gallileo, but that is another story) and begins with what a “brilliant scientist” Darwin was, leading to this:

He is, Newton apart, the greatest British scientist ever, so it makes good sense for the British Council, among others, to use this as an opportunity to flag up the prestigious history of British science.

Now, I am sure there are many British scientists (living and dead) who would take offence at this. Darwin’s work (and Newtons) was indeed brilliant, but there have been many other examples of equal brilliance albeit in different fields. Lawrence Krauss, in New Scientist, states that “anyone who was looking could have seen that humans were animals” which is certainly true – Darwin’s brilliance was to have been looking…

Further on, Madeleine identifies one of the biggest worries about the state of British education (and possibly a reason behind the Year of Darwin):

What drives this anniversary is a missionary zeal to persuade and convince the public of the truth of Darwin’s great discoveries, because, astoundingly – despite the mountain of scientific evidence – there is still considerable scepticism and even hostility to this great Victorian. A poll for the BBC in 2006 found that less than half the British population accepted the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life.

Less than half. In a “largely” secular nation. Sad, isn’t it. I have some doubts of the figures, because I know of no-one personally who would say Evolution is false. For 30+ million people in the UK to think this, the chances of me never having met even one is pretty remote. While I personally feel the figures are somewhat inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. One person thinking the Sky Pixie shook magic dust out and life appeared is one too many.

From this point on, however, it goes downhill. Madeleine falls into the trap of thinking Darwin is the Atheist equivalent of Jesus. She seems to think that atheists require a historical icon to have been an atheist to support the cause. She seems to imply that Darwin has become the Old Testament Prophet of the New Atheism.

Utter nonsense but first some quotes:

In particular, what would have baffled Darwin is his recruitment as standard bearer for atheism in the 21st century.

Where has this come from? Creationists initiated the battle against Darwin, invoking their god to strike down evolution. Religious people of almost all persuasions are happy to accept evolution as valid science. The catholic church has embraced the work of Darwin. How in the name of Wotan is Darwin the “standard bearer” for Atheism?

I actually think Madeleine has mistaken Darwin for Dawkins. Easily done, but a mistake none the less.

Yet bizarrely, the whole 19th-century collapse of faith is now pinned on Darwin.

Only by Creationists. Again, she is using the arguments of creationists against atheists. Madness. There have been atheists as long as there have been humans. We are born atheists and some are converted into theists. The Royal Society was full of non-theists who had nothing to do with Darwin. This is just nonsense you would expect to see on Rapture Ready or CARM.

The fear is that the anniversary will be hijacked by the New Atheism as the perfect battleground for another round of jousting over the absurdity of belief (a position that Darwin pointedly never took up).

The fear by creationists. What is this “New Atheism” thing anyway? What does it mean? Does it imply people have found a new way of not believing? Does it actually have any meaning or is it an underhanded way of taking a shot at Atheists? Is it an example of how some atheists hate their own lack of belief so much they feel the need to distance themselves from others? (This leads to a point excellently expressed on The Atheist Ethicist Blog)

Agnosticism is not a valid belief structure. You either believe there is a god, or you dont. There is no new way to not believe, just in the modern world people are less frightened of stating they don’t believe. It is not “militant atheism” any more than Songs of Praise is militant Christianity.

Next we have a sleight of words trick:

Many of the prominent voices in the New Atheism are lined up to reassert that it is simply impossible to believe in God and accept Darwin’s theory of evolution; Richard Dawkins and the US philosopher Daniel Dennett are among those due to appear in Darwin200 events.

Wow, this is good. There are two points here and she writes to imply they are heavily linked. She first tells us that people are lined up to assert that it is impossible to believe in a Deity (any deity) and accept Evolution and then mentions Dawkins. The implication is clear, Dawkin will be one of these people. This appeals on some levels, because Dawkins is an outspoken atheist (damn his eyes for having the temeretity to speak out….) but it is clearly written by someone who knows nothing of what Dawkins has said.

It is possible to believe in the Christian God and accept evolution. Evolution makes no claims on the origin of life. The Catholic church is happy that God planted the seeds and life evolved. See, it is easy. Evolution disproves a literal interpretation of the bible, but outside the more fundamentalist minds this is rarely found anyway. It is, largely, only devout creationists who feel that Evolution alone challenges God.

Science as a whole challenges belief. In the God Delusion, and during his TV shows and talks, Dawkins uses a vast array of scientific fields to challenge the existence of any deity. I can not think of a scientific disciple which does not provide information to show there is no [Wotan|Odin|Thor|Set|Dievas|Allah|Krishna| etc]. Astronomy and Geology rubbish any idea of a literal interpretation of the biblical creation theory. Evolution is but one strand. No one would say “hey, ignore everything else in science, the only thing that disproves the bible is the genetic similarity between humans and chimps” (or what ever variation you want).

However.

There is a group of people who do think Evolution is the only means by which God can be disproven. These people are convinced that the rest of the scientific stable supports the existence of god, and provides a framework for him to exist. These people also think Dawkins is the evil spokesman of “Darwinism” and these people use the term “New Atheism” to put down those uppity non-believers who have the cheek to speak out in public.

Creationists.

Madeleine Bunting’s article has been so heavily influenced by creationist thinking you could almost read it on CARM, Uncommon Descent or the like. Almost but not quite. The terms are creationis terms. The arguments are creationist-inspired. But the general tone is one of a non-believer. I suspect there is some element of lazy journalism here, or a creationist researcher, or both. Possibly, Madeleine Bunting is an “Old Atheist” – the sort who kept quiet, went to church, paid a tithe etc but didn’t have faith – or perhaps she is an “Agnostic” – an atheist who wont admit it – but either way, she is wrong about Atheism needing, wanting or having a standard bearer in the form of Charles Darwin.