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Intelligent Design Watch
Monday, 28 May 2007
Not with a Big Bang, but a Whimper

The crowd at today's opening of Answers in Genesis' creationism displays was a vocal protest against misinformation by the museum. While the message of the protest rally was a bit diluted by extraneous political views, the main message was clear: many concerned citizens of Kentucky and Ohio agree that the displays are not scientific and are designed to undercut any science that contradicts a biblical literalist view of natural history.

 

I wasn’t part of the rally. I stood across the road from the citizens with signs, not because I disputed their views (though one lady thought I was a protestor against the protest), but because the views of most scientists I've heard from, and by the science societies I work for, were simply that the Answers in Genesis displays weren't scientific, and that public school students shouldn't be confused about science by them.

 

I was there to find reporters and introduce them to scientists, and certainly some scientists attended the rally. But though reporters abounded, I stood across from the rally on a muddy roadside by myself for a while. This didn't surprise me: the scientists who felt politically and were open to sharing their views were already across the road, and the shy ones who would rather get on with their science tended to stay at home. It's not that I feel scientists should not participate in the civic discussion – I think more scientists, with their wealth of knowledge about our machines, processes, bodies and systems, should feel a strong duty to make the knowledge accessible to the public and governing bodies. But the protest rally was a mix of messages.

 

The attendance was not as frantic as it was on the sneak preview day on Saturday, and perhaps people of faith don't feel so ardently that they need their views proved by science, as the folks from Answers in Genesis seem to think.

 

However, to the starry-eyed local TV reporters I just watched, the opening was a great success, but plagued with protesters. A local news anchor mentioned that the police even deployed mounted officers. As I recall, all the protestors politely cheered the pretty horses as they tramped down the road. One troubling note comes from the Cincinnati CBS station's report: a student visiting the displays said that his public school biology teacher had encouraged him to come. Let's hope it was in the spirit of learning what is –and isn't – science.

 

 

 


Posted by martha_heil at 11:52 PM EDT
Sunday, 27 May 2007
News analysis of scientists' views on creationism exhibits

Scientists fared well in national news about the opening of the Answers in Genesis Creationism exhibit. The scientific process would not recognize the proposition in the creationism exhibits as science-based, because the displays began with a certain conclusion – that the Christian Bible can be interpreted as literal fact – and then found facts and logic to support that idea. This, of course is not how science works – science begins with observations or hypotheses and leads to conclusions, often unpredictable from the beginning of the experiment.

 

National newspapers correctly reported that scientists are concerned about this Kentucky attraction because it misrepresents scientific thought, and uses deliberate untruths about science to make a specific point. The Washington Post, New York Times, and the country's best selling paper, USA Today, all recognized that the displays were unscientific. The national newspapers also reported that scientists were concerned about this museum because of its potential to confuse students as to the nature of science.

 

National TV, in the shape of an ABC Nightly News report, also correctly reported the scientists' concerns, although there was a troubling moment in the report when Answers in Genesis' spokesperson, Ken Ham, persuaded the reporter to use the phrase "secular scientists" instead of simply "scientists". The implication that all scientists are secular is incorrect: many scientists are people of strong faith. The process of science is outside of the realm of faith, though the discoveries it uncovers often have implications for faith traditions. Such as all the evidence that the earth is over 3 billion years old, and that humans and apes share a common ancestor – the bane of literalist interpretations.

 

Science didn’t do so well on local TV reports. Most local TV news reports didn't quote a scientist, but rather focused on the attractiveness of the exhibits, and quoted the director Ken Ham, throughout the pieces. This is troubling because 44% of adults in the US get their news from local TV and the same percentage of them rely on TV news for their science and technology information. This means they would not necessarily see the articles in the national newspapers that showed that scientists are concerned about these displays. TV news reports are short, and often don't have time to dig in and explore a subject, but the fact that all the local TV news stations missed the views of the scientific mainstream is troubling. Scientists have to work harder to make their views accessible and understandable to this audience.  And TV news stations have to ask themselves if the news they report really represent the audience's views. Many people -- scientists, teachers, parents and clergy -- in the area of the Creationism museum do not agree that this is a good thing economically for the area, or that it agrees with their faith's views on science.

 

Local newspapers had the most thorough coverage of all the viewpoints and events. Reports ranged from economic impact, a report on the rally, views of scientists, breaking news on the museum opening and its construction, and editorials from both sides of the creationism controversy. Most articles correctly reported that scientists are concerned that this will have negative impact on schoolchildren and that the displays aren’t scientific. Especially strong was a Cincinnati Post editorial putting the creation story in the Aswers in Genesis building in the context of many faiths' creation traditions, and condemning the potential impact on school children. One local story reported that an Ohio Department of Education spokesperson said that school districts will be allowed to decide individually whether public school groups should visit the exhibits.


Posted by martha_heil at 9:04 PM EDT
Saturday, 26 May 2007
Creation on Display in Kentucky -- Day 1: NoPlace for Science

The shaggy K-9 unit—also known as a police dog – at the entrance to the gates was not there as an example of artificial selection, in which the breeder's hand imitates nature's by bringing out traits inherent in dog DNA, using selective pressure to fit the required environmental niche—superior sense of smell, lightning fast reflexes and unparalleled obedience. No, the dog, like the guns in holsters, the security stops, and the burly men in uniform, all meant one thing: those who are a threat will not be tolerated here.

 

Welcome to the Creation Museum.

 

Answers in Genesis, the biblical literalist ministry had a local advance opening of its young-earth creationism museum today. It claims that the museum scientifically proves the Word: that the earth was created in six days, that dinosaurs with pointy stabbing teeth ate only plants before the fall of humankind, and that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. They also would not let scientists in their gates today.

 

Today was for the believers. Today was also a carefully orchestrated event for people who would carry their message to the citizens of the nation. A huge press conference was planned and drew reporters from all over the country. Tomorrow, in another post, we'll look carefully at the news stories those messengers carried and see the impact that this ministry had on the conversation about a museum that purports to do science, but deliberately misleads its visitors using scientific terms and hand-picked facts.

 

Today, since scientists weren't allowed near the place lest they interrupt Answers in Genesis' well-funded and well-guarded version of the history of the Earth and the development of the species on it, I couldn't stay. I had hoped to introduce the attending journalists to some scientists, not so they could get "the other side of the story", but so they could get some perspective.

 

This museum is not a museum of science. It's a museum of faith, carefully cloaked in scientific garb, to help prove the truth of the Christian bible. Why is this a concern for scientists, such as the ones that have signed petitions protesting the museum, or those who couldn't be there but are quietly fuming?

 

Because this museum distorts science. It's an educational attraction, carrying in this morning at least one schoolbus in through a long line of cars waiting at the iron gates. It shows first the scientific viewpoint – places a scientific fact in front of the visitor, then "debunks" the years of research and testing that went into ascertaining that piece of knowledge with carefully chosen phrases that reinforce a specific religious viewpoint.

 

Down the road from the creationism displays, there is a roadside attraction that scientists aren't worried about. The Living Word Outdoor Drama promises plays from biblical times, staged for religious education and information. It has live animals in its shows, invites concert performers to sing– and causes no ire in the scientific community. Why? Because it’s honest. It aims to renew or inspire your faith, but it doesn’t try to deliberately mislead people using scientific terms that many people find confusing even while they’re in school and have the job of learning those terms.

 

Down the road also – and the place where I spent most of my day – is Big Bone Lick State Park, with campgrounds, a lake, live bison, and a small paleonotological museum. Being a state park, it's nowhere near as well funded as the Answers in Genesis shop.  It has a few displays of the huge mammoth bones that were found preserved in the sulfur and salt swamps in the area. The salt found here allowed Native Americans to cure meat, and so the traces of those early dwellers on our continent are also found here.

 

Outside the state park's museum, I met a physicist and astronomer who come one Saturday a month to show visitors views of the Sun and its explosive activity through a solar telescope. They’ve been coming for years, and their college campus is about to open a planetarium for the students. It's been in the works for a long time, due to the ups and downs of educational funding, and these teachers hope later to do outreach efforts like bringing in younger students to see the discoveries of science as shown in the sky. Their planetarium runs on the same computer system as the planetarium at the Answers in Genesis attraction. However, the astronomers will show students what the great enterprise of science has discovered.

 

The Answers in Genesis theme park has been reported to have cost $27 million dollars. However, until tax time, we won’t know if those 27 million dollars are all from small donors, as the directors like to imply. The state-of-the-art planetarium system was donated and groups of volunteers came to help build the museum. Ken Ham, the founder, is a dedicated fundraiser and publicist. Does the museum have large donors that fund this display of faith?

 

This well-crafted educational site also has accompanying instructional materials for students of all ages. It has found a few folks with PhD's who serve as the talking heads and the justification that Answers in Genesis is doing science. It's even implied that those who don't visit the museum can't critique it, because there must be some startling new discoveries inside. But according to the Answers in Genesis website, the questions the museum poses are old ones, ones that have been shown to be untrue many times over by those whose business is testing hypotheses and performing experiments to get data.

 

Scientists of all religions can come together and do great science, because the process of science has safeguards set in it to help overcome human biases. Scientists can repeat others' tests. They can look at data gathered and evaluate whether the most logical conclusion has been drawn. The system called peer-review, in which a scientific manuscript is sent to colleagues in the field for evaluation, is there to weed out weak conclusions and help improve ways of testing. Religion can be a large part of scientist's life – and is, for many practicing scientists -- but at the work bench, it's no more relevant to the experiment than the scientist's favorite football team.

 

When someone begins with a conclusion – such as that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time – and then cherry-picks facts that support the conclusion, that's not science. That's all. Please don’t be confused.


Posted by martha_heil at 11:13 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 26 May 2007 11:18 PM EDT
Wednesday, 1 March 2006
Four upcoming meetings with sessions on Intelligent Design Creationism
MEETING 1:

The American Physical Society's meeting in March in Baltimore, MD will include a session and a news conference on Intelligent Design creationism. The meeting is slated for Monday-Friday, March 13-17 at the Marriot Waterfront Hotel. Register for the meeting at http://www.aps.org/meet/MAR06/reg.cfm

Session M50: Intelligent Design: Its Impact and Responses to It
http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/MAR06/sessionindex2/?SessionEventID=46557
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
7:30-9:45 - Grand Salon V
Chair: Robert Eisenstein
SPEAKER LIST:
Jeremy Gunn, ACLU, 7:30PM - 8:06PM
Legal Perspectives on Religion in Public School Science Classes
Marshall Berman, physicist formerly of Sandia who ran for school board in New Mexico to fight ID policies, 8:06PM - 8:42PM
Science and Society Under Attack: The Need for Political As Well As Scientific Responses
Francis Slakey, public affairs at APS, 8:42PM - 9:18PM
APS Activities with Other Professional Societies
Invited Speaker: Cornelia Dean, New York Times, 9:18PM - 9:54PM
Media Coverage of Evolution and Intelligent Design

News Conference, Wednesday, March 15, 10 AM
FOUNDATIONS OF EVOLUTION
Physicists are developing new tools for testing biological evolution at a much deeper level than was possible 20 years ago. Robert Austin of Princeton (austin@princeton.edu) will provide an introduction to an entire APS session (R7) dealing with this topic. Daniel Fisher of Harvard (fisher@physics.harvard.edu) will discuss efforts to explore evolutionary dynamics in a quantitative fashion through the combination of microbial experiments and theory. The University of Chicago's Jim Shapiro (jsha@uchicago.edu) will explain that an information-science approach is bound to offer many new details about evolution. As he points out, the results of 50 years of molecular biology research have demonstrated that the genome is not a passive blueprint, but rather a complex information-processing unit, and that cells have "natural genetic engineering tools" for restructuring DNA molecules. Using nano- and micro-fabrication technology to create habitable landscapes for E. Coli bacteria populations, speaker Juan Keymer and his colleagues at Princeton University (keymer@Princeton.edu), are exploring how spatial factors such as the destruction of habitat (induced by ultraviolet light) shape the organisms' evolution.


MEETING 2:
NSTA will bring together key individuals from the Dover trial at the NSTA National Conference in Anaheim on April 6, 2005. During the panel "Kitzmiller v. Dover: The Trial of Intelligent Design," science teachers, scientists, attorneys, and other experts involved in the case will recount the challenges, stakes, strategy, and outcome of this important trial. Look for more information about this session in a future issue of NSTA Express.
>Son of ocean pioneer Jacques Cousteau, Jean-Michel Cousteau will be the general session speaker at NSTA's 54th National Conference on Science Education in Anaheim, CA, April 6-9. To register, visit http://www.nsta.org/anaheimconference.


MEETING 3:
The Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives meeting July 25-28 in Salt Lake City will have a session with the latest updates on pending court cases, new bills introduced into state legislatures, and actions taken scientists and science societies to help show the public the science community's consensus on strong, peer-reviewed science. There will be other sessions on legislative and media issues http://www.cesse2006.org/program.cfm . Sign up to attend the meeting at: http://www.cesse2006.org/registration.cfm


MEETING 4: ASBMB Centennial meeting hosts session on Teaching Evolution Under Threat from Opposing Views:
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology's public affairs symposium on "Teaching Evolution Under Threat from Opposing Views," to be held from 12:30 - 2:00 pm on April 4, 2006, in San Francisco, CA during the Society's centennial meeting. We are featuring four speakers: Don Johanson, AZ State University (he is the discoverer of the Lucy fossil); Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education; Ken Miller, Brown University and a prominent evolution advocate; and the Rev. Ted Peters, editor of the Journal of Science and Theology and a faculty member at Pacific Lutheran Seminary.
You can register to attend the meeting by going to our webpage, www.asbmb.org and clicking on the meetings page.

Posted by martha_heil at 9:57 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006 9:57 PM EST
Monday, 6 February 2006
Creationism song
My good friend (and lover) James wrote a satire on the science of creationism. I've just uploaded it and other classics from our monthly open mic show on a new page:
http://martha_heil.tripod.com/openmic.html

Posted by martha_heil at 11:31 PM EST
Monday, 9 January 2006
First Entry
Topic: introduction
I'm Martha Heil, i work at the American Institute of Physics and I'm lucky enough to be able to work on intelligent design, following the movement and helping scientists keep non-science out of science classrooms. This blog isnt posted by the American Institute of Physics and my opinions arent shared by AIP. This is my own personal blog and reflects only my thoughts on this issue.

Posted by martha_heil at 10:49 PM EST

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