Evolution Has One Year to Hurry Up and Die!

Remember this prediction made by our favorite Disco Dude, William Dembski?

In the next five years, molecular Darwinism—the idea that Darwinian processes can produce complex molecular structures at the subcellular level—will be dead. When that happens, evolutionary biology will experience a crisis of confidence because evolutionary biology hinges on the evolution of the right molecules. I therefore foresee a Taliban-style collapse of Darwinism in the next ten years. Intelligent design will of course profit greatly from this. – “Measure of Design: a Conversation About the Past, Present, and Future of Darwinism and Design.” Touchstone, volume 17, issue 6, pages 60-65, at page 64 (July/August 2004).

Well, I got wind (now, now!) of this in 2006, when on April 2 of that year, Dembski repeated his “prediction” to a Kentucky newspaper. Therefore, I am willing to cut him some slack and not declare his prediction kaput just yet – although, technically, it is. (And really, it always was.)

I kept a countdown on my previous blog, but there is no more laughter to be wrung from this stone; it’s all quite pathetic really, how after the Kitzmiller Trial, that party animal Intelligent Design turned into a doddering old fool looking for his false teeth. But hey – you have one more year, Bill! Surely you can show us a little fire?

Atheists Believe in Systems

When Richard Dawkins sued webmaster and forum moderator Josh Timonen for embezzlement a little over four years ago, it made an impression on me, then newly out of graduate school and fresh from my internship in the Archives Division of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. It was a painful episode for me of course, being that I considered both men to be friends, although I was not pleased at how the forum at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science had been abruptly scrapped by Josh. Richard ultimately dropped the suit.

Later, when I had the opportunity to be an archival consultant for the aviation museum for which I had volunteered for years, I asked to be the assistant archivist, and to have a lead who would also be my mentor. The Richard-Josh mess was the direct reason for my request. It was my first paid consulting gig, but that was not the reason; I was sure of my capabilities and my grounding in archival theory. The real reason was that I did not want to be in the same position that I perceived Josh had been in, with free reign quickly given to him, and without oversight. I wanted oversight.

As it turned out I was wise to ask for this. Not because I needed a mentor – the lead archivist seconded by decisions and judgments, told me that I did not need her, and converted much of her paid hours into supplies for the museum instead. As it turned out, the politics of nonprofits can be emotional and nasty, and suddenly in the middle of my project I was saddled with a bossy, narcissistic former volunteer who tried to press an Air Force cataloging system upon me (we were not Air Force) and who, not unlike many “dedicated” volunteers, seemed to think that the museum owed him something for his time – wasted, in my opinion, in creating what was essentially a parts catalog in Microsoft Access instead of a registry of artifacts – and for his donation of supplies, which were useless.(Commercial plastic bins are not archival, as they have a low melting point, much lower than the flash point of nonacidic cardboard archival boxes.)

All this happened while the blackguard who brought back this volunteer to “help” me went around falsely accusing a staff member of embezzlement (ironic, no? There was no stealing in this case) and alienating what staff and volunteers who were not already alienated by my new friend (old to them). The writer of the grant got involved somehow and began moving the goalposts of the grant. It was a nightmare! “I don’t envy your position,” my mentor told me.

I handled it. I managed to bring the grant back from its elegance creep to its original goal, made the volunteer turn over the information he had taken home and hoarded as a bribe to come back, and let the board member who had saddled me with him what I thought of the situation. The board member resigned soon afterward and both men were out of my hair!

I had applied the lessons learned from the lawsuit by Richard against Josh: human beings need systems in order to do their jobs correctly, in order for there to be accountability, in order to remain honest. It is not enough that people are good, honest, and have integrity; we need layers of accountability and peer review to ensure that they stay honest. In my case, I had a bona fide archives expert, a consultant with many years’ experience, to back me up. It was a smart move for me to request this. It would have been a smart move for Josh to request that he have someone to report to, someone to check his work and render opinions on his decisions.

My aviation museum descended into a paranoid pit of rumor because that board member and my “helper” had had free reign for too long, and I recognized that I had been given free reign as well. Though I was a certified archivist and these men were basically blowhards, they had the ear of other board members and so I had to marshal my forces to push back. My mentor backed me up and wrote up some conclusions to help me, and I did push back. I also asked advice from my archivists’ listserv, who proved to be very insightful and helpful. We archivists lean on each other a lot; there are a lot of standards, and these are constantly being refined in our still relatively young profession. No one can remember every policy, every preservation method, or be informed on everything.

I don’t care who or what you are – we are all prone to greed, mistakes, and confirmation bias. Power corrupts. Individual morality or expertise is not essentially the question. Our system of government is a system of checks and balances, as is the scientific method (via the efforts of colleagues to replicate one’s results), as is peer review, and so on. As I’ve often pointed out, I worship no one, not even Stephen Jay Gould or Richard Dawkins. As an atheist, I believe in systems that prevent fraud or the malignant concentration of power.

(You can see the photo of me with NASM staff, all of us posing as patrons, here. I was wearing my polka dotted dress for the Interns’ Ice Cream Social later that day. Photo by Eric Long.) 1271

My photo of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega at NASM

Thoughts on Reading Errol Morris’ “A Wilderness of Error”

This is part of an article in process.

When I read “drug-addled hippies” [having committed the Manson murders] in Morris’ book, alarm bells immediately went off. Manson’s indoctrination of his followers certainly involved the use of drugs, but drugs themselves were never responsible for the Tate and LaBianca murders, and the killers themselves were not “addled,” nor in a fog. They were in possession of their faculties, and carried out the killings in the quasi-religious, cultish belief that they were foot soldiers in Manson’s apocalyptic vision of attaining penultimate power after the worldwide “race war,” called Helter Skelter, that he believed the murders would instigate. It was this apocalyptic fervor, and the Family’s fierce devotion to Charles Manson (with the exception of Linda Kasabian, who was repulsed by the killings and turned prosecution witness) that lay at the root of the Manson murders. Morris should have known better.

The parallels that he draws between the Tate-LaBianca murders and the murders of the MacDonald family are likewise ridiculous. Morris states that Rosemary and Leo LaBianca were killed by implements in their own home, just like College, Kimberly, and Kristen MacDonald. True, but the killings of Sharon Tate and her companions at 10050 Cielo Drive involved guns and knives brought by the killers; Tex Watson told Manson afterward that there was “a lot of panic,” and so Manson accompanied the killers on the next night’s rampage in order to show them how to perform a controlled household killing[i]. Also, Morris conveniently forgets that the killers of the LaBiancas raided the fridge and ate the food that was there—and even fed the LaBianca’s dogs—while the supposed intruders at 544 Castle Drive left without taking any jewelry, food, or the plethora of drugs available in an open closet. Any resemblances between the MacDonald and the Tate-LaBianca murders are superficial at best.

[i] Bugliosi, Vincent, and Gentry, Curt. Helter Skelter. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1974. p 302.

Evolution’s “No-Go Zones”

Amid the uproar that a Fox News guest, and now Governor of Louisana Bobby Jindal, have claimed that “no-go zones” exist for nonMuslims in Paris, Birmingham, and U.S. cities, a claim debunked by Snopes, I have a question:

What about the “no-go zones” for teaching evolution in the United States? What about our science “no-go zones”?

If we, as Jindal pontificates, want “assimilation,” then among the first things to be assimilated should be science, including the theory of evolution, yes?

Yes? Does anyone agree? Anyone? Anyone?

Arrested for NOT Being a “False Muslim”

The Guardian reports that the brother of Ahmed Berabet, police officer and Muslim killed by the terrorists in Paris, has asserted that his brother’s killers were “false” Muslims, only “pretending to be Muslims.”

“My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims,” he said. “Islam is a religion of peace and love. As far as my brother’s death is concerned it was a waste. He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity.”

And yet, in Egypt a 21-year-old man has been sentenced to three years in prison for coming out as an atheist on his Facebook page!

A student has been sentenced to three years in prison for announcing on Facebook that he was an atheist and thereby “insulting Islam”. Karim Ashraf Mohamed al-Banna, aged 21, was arrested in November 2014 with a group of other people at a cafe in Cairo.

Police then closed down the so-called “atheists cafe” in what is being viewed as a coordinated government crackdown on atheists. A local administrator told a news website that the coffee shop was “known as a place for satan worship, rituals and dances”.

AFP was told by al-Banna’s lawyer, Ahmed Abdel Nabi, that al-Banna’s father testified against him on the grounds that he “was embracing extremist ideas against Islam”. He was bailed until his appeal is heard in March.

The authorities under Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s regime have stepped up measures to counter atheism, blasphemy and other forms of so-called dissent.

So… Terrorists are “false Muslims,” and Islam should not be blamed for the violence done in its name – but if you live in a predominantly Muslim country and refuse to be a “false Muslim,” instead professing what you do believe, you will be arrested?

Which is it?