Radio Freethinker

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Posts Tagged ‘Intelligent design’

RFT Ep 241 – Debating God Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 4, 2014

Download the episode here! 


Don’s Rant:


Don’s Rant’s turned into a primer and tutorial about how to debate a charismatic christian apologist.

Having listened to a debate between an Atheist and an Apologist on the topic “Is it rational to believe in god”. However quickly the Apologist changed the question to “What is a rational belief” and then it became “Can a rational person believe in god?”

So, this weeks show is what are the arguments for and against god, but more importantly how do you debate rhetoric instead of facts.

Find out more:


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South Korea Creationist Controversy

Posted by Ethan Clow on June 13, 2012

In all time science fails committed on a national scale, this one has to be near the top. South Korea has banned evolution from its text books across the country, giving into pressure from creationists.

Nature reported on this shocking national “dumbening” (my words) of S. Korea.

It began when a petition to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks succeeded last month after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) revealed that many of the publishers would produce revised editions that exclude examples of the evolution of the horse or of avian ancestor Archaeopteryx. Not surprisingly, the country’s leading biologists were not consulted.

The campaign was led by the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), which aims to delete the “error” of evolution from textbooks to “correct” students’ views of the world, according to the society’s website.

The STR is an independent offshoot of the Korea Association for Creation Research (KACR), according to KACR spokesman Jungyeol Han. Thanks in part to the KACR’s efforts, creation science — which seeks to provide evidence in support of the creation myth described in the Book of Genesis — has had a growing influence in South Korea.

In a 2009 survey conducted for the South Korean documentary The Era of God and Darwin, almost one-third of the respondents didn’t believe in evolution. Of those, 41% said that there was insufficient scientific evidence to support it; 39% said that it contradicted their religious beliefs; and 17% did not understand the theory. The numbers approach those in the United States, where a survey by the research firm Gallup has shown that around 40% of Americans do not believe that humans evolved from less advanced forms of life.

About half the people of South Korea practice religion, of which the two most popular are Christianity and Buddhism.

Specifically, references to Archaeopteryx (one of the most famous transitional fossils ever) have been removed. The Society for Textbook Revision also plans to have references to human evolution and finch beaks as well.

As I was reading more about this story I saw a few comments from South Koreans who were taking issue with some of the phrasing of the story. A few have suggested this is at most a hollow victory for creationists. They attest that evolution will still be taught in South Korean high schools and the removal of material from the text books is small in comparison to the amount of science that is being taught.

I can understand that. This clearly isn’t a death blow to science. It’s not like universities are being closed down and biologists are being fired and locked up in prison. That being said, this is a big deal. We’ve seen the direction that creationist activists in the US have been working to undermine the science in America. They frequently infiltrate school boards and rely on support from their conservative religious public to help them manipulate the system.

They also disguise their attack as scientific criticism, referring to creationism as “creation science” or “intelligent design”. These tactics are meant to sew doubt amongst moderate believers. Give them the impression that perhaps there is scientific debate about evolution. This manufactured controversy then fuels more “revision” and “debate” which further drives this wedge of misunderstanding and undermines the teaching of evolution.

South Koreans should be very worried about this and not try to shrug this off as a small victory for creationists.

I saw something else while I was researching this. Have you heard of the TIMSS? Beginning in 1995 and every four years thereafter, The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has been conducted. TIMSS tests fourth, eighth and 12th grade students around the globe on both science and mathematics and the huge data set allows knowledge levels to be compared by country.

In science, students in the United States ranked third at the fourth grade level but fell to 17th at the eighth grade level and rose slightly to 16th at the 12th grade level. Students from South Korea, in comparison, were first and fourth in fourth and eighth grade, respectively. (South Korea didn’t test their 12th grade students.)

to quote Dr. Michael Zimmerman in his article on the Huffington Post

“Koreans will soon realize that when biology education removes evolution as the organizing principle for the discipline, students will no longer be able to make sense of the science. Without evolution serving as the central idea tying all facets of biology together, all that’s left is a collection of random facts and experiments. Teaching biology without evolution is akin to teaching history simply by asking students to memorize dates. No context, no integration of ideas, no learning.”

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NASA sued by design

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 30, 2012

NASA is facing a lawsuit by David Coppedge over alleged discrimination against “Intelligent” Design (ID) proponent. Coppedge claims religious discrimination and wrongful dismissal when he was laid off during recent NASA budget cuts. This decease he is a proponent of

First the details of the case:

David Coppedge lost his status as “team lead” after his co-workers complained of harassment and he was let go when the project he was working on ended. He was just one of 246 JPL employees terminated last year due to budget cuts

Coppedge is active in the intelligent design community and runs a website that interprets scientific discoveries through the lens of intelligent design. He admits to handing out to co-workers, video documentaries examining the scientific evidence for intelligent design produced by Illustra Media, where he is a board member.

Coppedge lawsuit asserts that he was not attempting to proselytize, but that his attempts were to share his beliefs. To support his claim of suffering discrimination, he stated that when he expressed support for the anti-gay Proposition 8 and requested the staff holiday party be “re-labeled” Christmas party; that he was deemed a Christian conservative.

Coppedge originally brought suit in April 2010, after his demotion, alleging religious discrimination and harassment, and amended it after he lost his job to include wrongful termination. He is seeking damages and a statement that his rights were violated.

The Discovery Institute which supports Coppedge described his treatment as “part of a pattern. There is basically a war on anyone who dissents from Darwin and we’ve seen that for several years.”

The National Center for Science Education and NASA expressed that they hope this is adjudicated as an employment action and not used as a back-door way of arguing scientific facts…like evolution!

Now there are three aspects to this I think relevant.

First, does the fact he believed in ID give NASA cause to fire him?

Yes and no…but mostly no. I have discussed in the past that one’s personal beliefs should only concern your employer under X specific conditions,

1)   They interfere with your ability to do your work. For example, if Coppedge did not believe in the heliocentric solar system (or would that he called it the terra system?) it would imply that you thought NASA was involved in some huge conspiracy to trick the people into thinking the Sun was the centre of the system. Simply put you could not be trusted to do your job competently.

2)   They bring direct disrepute upon your employer. So, if Coppedge went on a speaking tour as a NASA scientist to advocate his point of view. It is a view that NASA does not support and because you were using its name to create legitimacy for that view without expressed permission from NASA; thus they have a right to interfere and if necessary terminate.

Second, if I share my beliefs/hobbies/interest with my fellow co-workers, does this give NASA (or any employer) cause to fire me?

Maybe, it is not WHAT he was trying to share that is important, but how. That is, if you are creating a negative workplace environment because of the WAY you express those thoughts.

If I am constantly bringing up the subject in spite of the protest of my co-workers, then I have begun to harass them. If I get agitated and ‘aggressive’ in my ‘expression’ of my thoughts, this may make one’s co-workers uncomfortable, again it becomes harassment.

It's not the request, but how insistent it could have been

Coppedge mentioned that he did on several occasions attempt to ‘enlighten’ his co-workers about ID (and one will assume the metaphysics behind it…i.e. A God), the fact he wished to ‘resurrect’ the Christian ‘title’ for the holiday party, and the conviction with which he seemed to hold his beliefs; it seems that what he WAS doing was proselytizing. This can, and obviously did, create a negative work environment and NASA was in its rights to restore a positive environment by first demoting Coppedge and then including him in the lay-off list.

Lastly, IS this a workplace action at all or another attempt by those in the ID community to use the courts to promote their beliefs on a science community that has dismissed it?

The involvement of the Discovery Institute makes me worry about this issue. IF Coppedge wins his lawsuit, it may be interpreted that people should be free to express their ID beliefs anywhere; that to deny it is discrimination. It would seem the end goal may be to elevate the expression and promotion of ID to a legal right.

Now I confess I am unsure how to distinguish ID from freedom of belief. Ironically, those who propose ID insist that it is not theology but science (although that has been debunked in the Dover case). So, if it is theology, then oddly he may have a case for discrimination if he was not harassing his co-workers AND was fired largely for his ID beliefs.

The evidence I have seen exonerated NASA by my accounting, but there is still the worry that the Discovery Institute lawyers may construe this as a rights issue and the US courts may be sympathetic (assuming the judge believes in the “war on religion” propaganda à la Fox News types).

Let’s keep our eyes open on this one.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 158 – Citing Canada Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 20, 2012

This week  Selling Canadian Science, NASA sued by ‘Intelligent’ Design, St. Patrick’s day and Don’s interview with Tony Sobrado – Part 2(of 3), conspiracy theories as political ideology.

Download the episode here!


Harper Government plan to make NRC more business friendly!

Two part talk, first it turns out in raw science Canada punched well above its weight class. Although only producing about 1/10 the papers in science as the USA or UK, our papers are cited more. We have the most influential scientist in the world based on citations…and that is everything in the world of academia.
On this topic, word has come out from Ottawa about an ongoing effort to transform the National Research Council’s directions. The NRC is a government agency that funds the majority of research in Canada. The Harper government would like to see the agency focus less on “blue sky” projects and develop a ‘concierge’ or “1-800 number” service for businesses. We take a short and balance look at how this could affect our place in the science community.

Find out more:

CFI newly “Elected” board of directors

We review the new members and the slow but steady move towards democratic governance and CFI.

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NASA Sued by “Intelligent” Design

NASA is facing a lawsuit by David Coppedge. Coppedge claims religious discrimination and wrongful dismissal when he was laid off during recent NASA budget cuts. We examine his claim and its implications for NASA, the work place and the possibility of legally imposing ‘intelligent’ design.

Find out more:

St. Patrick’s Day Debate?

We have an interesting discussion about the origins of St. Patrick’s Day and should we as atheist celebrate a Catholic Feast Day? Ethan also questions if the holiday as we now have perpetuating ‘racist’ stereotypes of the Irish.


Find out more:

Tony Sobrado interview Part 2 – Conspiracy theory as political ideology

This week we start a three part series with Tony Sobrado. Tony Sabrado Tony is a research analyst and social scientist currently based in London. Author of the soon to be published book “Who rules the world: An analysis to conspiracy theory”. He also contributes to the Huffington Post.

Part 2 – We define what a conspiracy is, the sociological history of conspiracy theory and the frame-work Tony has developed to help analyse conspiracy theories from a social/political science perspective.

Learn more about Tony Sobrado:

Skeptical Highlights:

It’s Wrong to Wreck the World: Climate Change and the Moral Obligation to the Future

Kathleen Dean Moore, co-founder of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word and professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University, will talk on the importance of viewing climate change as a moral crisis and taking a moral response towards the issue.
<From the poster>
“In our generation, as Thomas Berry writes, we have done to the Earth what no previous generation has done, because they lacked the technological power, and what no future generation will be able to do, because the planet will never again be so beautiful or abundant. In the process, we have degraded, and perhaps changed forever, the great systems that sustain our lives. This is a scientific and technological crisis, assuredly.  But it is fundamentally a moral crisis, and it calls for a moral response. Why has climate-change science elicited such stunning indifference?  What calls us to act? How can we respond to the crisis in ways that honor duties of compassion, justice, and respect for human rights?  How can we discuss these values across differences?  How do we live, when we truly understand that we live in complete dependence on an Earth that is interconnected, interdependent, finite, resilient, and heart-breakingly beautiful?”

When: Wed. Mar. 21, 7pm,
Location: Alma VanDusen Room, Vancouver Public Library
Cost: Free
SFU Continuing Studies in Science and Environment Lecture Series

Seeing the Strings: Capitalism and You

Our aim is to initiate meaningful deliberation in Vancouver around how capitalism operates, and its reliance on both visible and invisible forms of domination and exploitation in order to function.

Each event will be split into three equally important components that will work to build both personal and community-wide understanding of the topics.
First, a discussion will explore the themes of the event within a historical and theoretical context. This will create a system-wide explanation or “big picture,” demonstrating not only what the specific form of oppression addressed is, but also how it operates within capitalism.
Then, a second speaker will explore the topic in a historically present context, using examples from living communities to reveal the connections between past and present, theory and practice.
The third component of the night will be a participatory workshop, with strong facilitation, involving all attendees. There will be small group discussions with small or large group movement activities that will enable individuals to explore how the topic at hand functions in their own life, to learn about the experiences of others, and to see that oppression functions systemically, affecting everyone in different ways.

When: Fri. Mar. 23, 7pm,
Location: Alma VanDusen Room, Vancouver Public Library
Cost: By donation, no one turned away for lack of funds
Vancouver Media Co-op

University of Lethbridge new chair in Alt-Med

It was recently announced that the University of Lethbridge has received funds and is creating a chair of Complementary and Alternative Health Care.

This is more of a low-light than highlight but something to keep our eyes on. Recent moves in Canada, Australian and the USA by proponents of Alt-Med are intended to bring legitimacy by association where actually achieving scientific success as failed them.

Droog gift establishes Chair in alternative health care

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Pseudo Censorship

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 9, 2012

A University of Louisiana professor is suing his university for violation of his first amendment rights by both criticizing his methods as well as preventing him from teaching

The first anti-vaxxers

Professor John Oller Jr., who worked in the Communicative Disorders Department, claims the Dean of Arts became hostile to his theories and systematically excluded him from teaching students. There have been reductions of his class size, a banning of his self-authored textbook, a lack of lecture opportunities and, according to Oller, a general ostracization by his fellow professors. Communicative Disorders Department deals with topics like Autism, Dyslexia and learning disabilities that affect communications. Oller specializes in sign language but more recently has focused on Autism. In 2010 he published a book – Autism: The Diagnosis, Treatment, & Etiology of the Undeniable Epidemic. The forward is written by Andrew Wakefield.

In the book, he promotes the false link between vaccination and the supposed ‘autism’ epidemic. Remember, his expertise is in linguistics not immunology or even biology.  There is more; he is also a believer in Intelligent Design and Creationism. He has spoken many times to the Louisiana legislature as an expert to promote the teaching of ID in Louisiana high school biology curriculum.

Oller, when presenting himself to the legislature, is seen as a doctor, as a member of the faculty of the University of Louisiana…using this position of respectability and authority, he gave testimony on a subject matter (biology/evolution) that he has no expertise. As a public representative of the university, this has a direct impact on the image and credibility of the university in general and the faculty of Communicative Disorders directly.

Oller is also a tenured professor…that is, unless he kills a student, he cannot be fired. Usually tenure protects professors from inappropriate persecution, however occasionally the discrimination is warranted, as in this case. Oller has used his academic and teaching platform to espouse his outlandish theories about both the causes of autism and the belief it’s an epidemic…theories in fields that are not his area of expertise. It is because of this that the department attempted to limit the damage he could do in his attempt to pollute students minds. If he had limited his teaching time…his lectures to discussing aspects of overcoming communication deficiencies of those affected by autism…maintained his comments to disorders that affect communication; the position of the dean would be weak.

The Dean and several faculty members (there does not seem to be any faculty that support Oller) mention that on several occasions they have had to deal with issues arising from Oller’s teaching and that they had been told by many his presence hurts the department’s credibility. Again, Oller is welcome to his own personal opinions that he may express and promote on his personal time; however if he uses his academic position to forward his cause…misusing his credential by implying knowledge in topics he does not have credentials…this transforms his personal activities to activities that have implications for the university…a transformation that gives the university a say (veto?) in how he presents himself in those occasions.

Evolution of the Creationist

He is, in part, being defended by the ADF – Alliance Defence Fund, a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage and the family. Sorry for the ad hominem…

Okay, I think we have three issues here – is he competent to teach his subject, does his professional activities outside teaching (and outside the university) provide the university justification for workplace actions and lastly does his private activities provide the university justification for workplace actions?

Now, on the first case, Oller was hired to teach about methods of communications and issues arising from that. He was NOT hired to comment, speculate or imply in his capacity as an instructor on the root causes of Autism. Now, instructors are often give some leeway to provide ‘editorial’ comment in class (take any class in political science or economics and you will hear at least one tangential theory from your professor); that said it is unclear specifically how far Oller expounded on his ‘theories’ in class but considering his self-authored textbook, it does appear to be more than a passing comment…to the point where is appears to be a central tenet of his instruction. So, on this ground the university was with its rights to ‘silence’ him.

On the second grounds, his promotion of both anti-vaccination and creationism would involve the university if he gave such lectures through the university lecture circuit or in off-campus activities where he identified himself as both an expert on subject he did not actual have accreditation AND affiliated himself with the university.  In doing this, and again it has been claimed by the faculty that he did this not irregularly, he not only risks his own professional reputation but also that of the faculty and university he is associated with. Again, it seems the university has a right to censor his activities as best they can.

On the last point, where he promotes his ‘wacky’ ideas on his own time as ‘just a regular citizen’; although I find his views offensive and dangerous; I do not think the university has the right to interfere with these aspects of his life. IT may, as collateral damage, tarnish the image is a report Googles his name and discovers he is a faculty member but that is not the offence of Oller. However, it seem Oller was not content to limit is activities to ‘private citizen’ acts but used the weight (and thus the prestige) of both his position and his association with a credible institution to make his outlandish remarks.

It’s a shame he will be used in future as an argument against the tenure system. It has it faults but it does provide academics the freedom to be a counterbalance to the establishment; however when one wishes to be counter-establishment there is a greater weight upon them to ensure their views can be backed up with evidence and that they are not a throwback to a disproved and discredited point of view.

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Saturday Stub: Monkeys in Tennessee

Posted by Ethan Clow on April 9, 2011

A couple weeks ago I blogged about a new bill in Texas called HB 2454, the bill was being presented to the Texas House of Representatives by Republican State representative Bill Zedler. The bill would make it easier to teach creationism in Texas Universities by preventing “discrimination” by said universities against professors who decide to teach creationism.

Now the state of Tennessee has passed a pro-creationist bill of its own. House Bill 368 the bill requires educational authorities to

“Create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues;”

Doesn’t sound so bad, but it also states that educational authorities are forbidden to

“prohibiting any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught, such as evolution and global warming”

Sounds pretty anti-science, but also pretty wasteful. Does not the teaching of science on its own encourage the development of critical thinking skills? Must a seperate bill be passed to encourage such teaching?

The sponsor of HB 368, Republican Bill Dunn, claimed that teaching “intelligent design” would not be protected under this bill. However, its chief lobbyist, David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, claimed otherwise in an article he wrote for the website Chattanoogan.

In 1925, John Washington Butler introduced the Butler Act in Tennessee that prevented the teaching of evolution. John Scopes, a biology teacher was charged under this act in what became the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, it was a profound moment in American history with long lasting repercussion in the arena of science, education and religion. HB 368 is another chapter in this long conflict between science and religion. But the language has changed. Now, fundamentalists are cloaking their attempts to stifle science with words of science. They encourage students to ” explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues” (empathasis mine)

How should we respond to scientific questions? How should we respond to scientific evidence? Good questions, should we get angry? Should we get informed? What is the appropriate response? Who defines appropriate in this case?

Of course, they’re only differences of opinion, you say tomato, I say tomahto, right? Science is just one way of looking at the world, equally valid as, say, reading the bible? Right?

And of course, evolution is a controversial issue, right? It’s not like the vast majority of biological science is based on the theory of evolution and that every respectable and established scientific intuition in the world, relying on empirical evidence and repeated testing, hasn’t confirmed it to be one of the most consistently proven scientific tenets?

That’s what I thought.

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Saturday Stub: More Academic Freedom to be Wrong

Posted by Ethan Clow on March 19, 2011

Remember Dr. Martin Gaskell? The astronomer who sued the University of Kentucky because they didn’t hire him because he was (supposedly) a creationist? Well, if things go right for Bill Zedler in Texas, such a trampling of academic freedom won’t ever happen again.

Bill Zedler, is a Republican State representative from Texas and he is proposing a new bill, entitled HB 2454, which, if passed, would prevent universities in Texas from:

“discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member’s or student’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.” – HB 2454

The bill was introduced in the Texas House of Representatives on March 8th and continues the long, tired and stupid notion of “academic freedom” to teach wrong things but pretend they’re true. Proponents of teaching creationism or “intelligent design” like to throw around the notion of “academic freedom.” Its a handy little phrase to depict themselves as part of a noble but suppressed cadre of scientists who are trying to research and teach an alternative to the religion theory of Darwinism. (It’s only a theory)

Here’s a nice quote from the good people of the Texas Freedom Network:

“The bottom line for us? Institutions of higher education should — and do — protect academic freedom. Rep. Zedler’s bill would instead require our colleges and universities to aid and protect academic fraud. But with the State Board of Education promoting anti-science propaganda in public schools, we shouldn’t be surprised that higher education is increasingly a target as well.”


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