Teach the Blasphemy

May 16, 2006 § 23 Comments

You may have heard about the biology professor whose contract was not renewed (that’s corporatese for “who was fired”) for questioning evolutionary dogma. You may also have heard that scyence heretycks must hereupon and forthwyth be denyed tenyure.

Rumor has it – well, it is more than rumor to me, since I have seen the actual powerpoint presentation – that the graduate molecular biology class at a major east coast university ends with a capstone slide – the very last powerpoint slide of the course, summing up the essence of the course for the Faithful, I mean the students – featuring Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper. The painting has been altered, though, and in the place of Christ is a picture of the flying spaghetti monster.

No agenda there.

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§ 23 Responses to Teach the Blasphemy

  • A Philosopher says:

    Failure to renew a temporary contract, in this context, is most definitely not the same thing as firing. My department regularly hires lecturers with no expectation that the lectureship will be renewed beyond the current academic year.It was extremely unclear to me from the minimally informative linked article that there was any actual evidence that the professor’s teaching on evolution was linked to the failure to renew the contract. Do you have any evidence that I’ve missed (your use of the causal “for” suggests that you do). Even if there is linkage, of course, it’s not at all obvious that the linkage is inappropriate. There are standards about what is appropriate to teach in what course, and the described lecturing could well have been inappropriate for the course the professor was hired to teach.

  • A Philosopher says:

    Failure to renew a temporary contract, in this context, is most definitely not the same thing as firing. My department regularly hires lecturers with no expectation that the lectureship will be renewed beyond the current academic year.It was extremely unclear to me from the minimally informative linked article that there was any actual evidence that the professor’s teaching on evolution was linked to the failure to renew the contract. Do you have any evidence that I’ve missed (your use of the causal “for” suggests that you do). Even if there is linkage, of course, it’s not at all obvious that the linkage is inappropriate. There are standards about what is appropriate to teach in what course, and the described lecturing could well have been inappropriate for the course the professor was hired to teach.

  • c matt says:

    And OJ was innocent.

  • A Philosopher says:

    C Matt,I know what the evidence against OJ was. What’s the evidence in this case?

  • c matt says:

    Unless you are with the LA prosecutor’s office, the police department, OJ’s trial team or sat through the trial in the courtroom, you don’t know the evidence. You may have heard of some portions of it second hand. The evidence in the linked article included student-witnesses as well as the fired prof’s own impressions. She has first-hand knowledge of the situation. Upwards of 80% of communication is non-verbal (tone, inflection, physical gestures, etc.). By relying on the article alone, you are not privy to 80% or more of the “evidence”. Given my own experiences at two universities, I find her treatment consistent with her allegations. There is actual evidence (her statements are “actual evidence”). Whether you find it persuasive is a different issue.

  • A Philosopher says:

    Of course I’m not privy to all of the evidence in the OJ case. I thought that was so obvious that it didn’t need stating. I am, however, privy to a sufficient degree that I can form a rational belief that he was guilty.And of course I’m relying only on the article for evidence here. I didn’t actually see any in there, which is why I asked Zippy what his evidence was. The closest thing to evidence in the article is the professor’s belief that her termination was due to her views on evolution, and that’s a pretty skimpy bit of evidence, especially when there’s also testimonial evidence in the other direction. (The claims by students are evidentially irrelevant, since they go only to the undisputed question of whether she was contesting evolution in the classroom.)

  • zippy says:

    <>I didn’t actually see any in there, which is why I asked Zippy what his evidence was.<>One piece of evidence I have that you probably don’t is that I have been in the presence of a member of the faculty of the university in question as he was giving a little “and good riddance” speech. But I think the evidence available on the Internet is sufficient to make the claims plausible.

  • Step2 says:

    Zippy,I find it strange that you would consider her release/firing unjustified, considering the context. It is all well and good that she believes in creationism, but given the context of a science class it is inappropriate to state her opposition to the theory that is best supported by the evidence. If she were only expressing some doubts about the gaps that exist in our knowledge of the process, that would be an acceptable and accurate admission. To say that it is false is another thing entirely.It is generally a bad idea to combine science and religion, one is the explanation of how, the other is the mystery of why.

  • zippy says:

    <>…it is inappropriate to state her opposition to the theory that is best supported by the evidence.<>That begs the question though. Evolution by random mutation and natural selection is, objectively, a terrible theory.The disjunction of how and why into hermetically distinct categories is also question-begging.

  • Step2 says:

    I do not see how it can be question begging from an essentialist point of view. That is what science is essentially, the formulation of theory to best conform to the evidence. You say it is objectively a terrible theory as a whole, but even ID proponents only dispute the irreducibly complex portions of it as incorrect.If she wants to believe science is something else, bravo for her, but she should not be teaching a science class.

  • zippy says:

    True, whether something is terrible science or not is independent of my opinion of it.<>You say it is objectively a terrible theory as a whole, but even ID proponents only dispute the irreducibly complex portions of it as incorrect.<>Good thing for me I am not an ID proponent. My opinion of neodarwinism (and my understanding of what neodarwinism is) corresponds roughly to that of Lynn Margulis. And though I think her alternative theories are interesting and thought provoking, as with any invocation of transposons, retroviruses, or other gene-shuffling mechanisms we are talking about <>existing gene-shuffling<>, not de novo new protein creation or speciation into birds and humans. No current theory of evolution explains where new information** comes from (Incidentally Ernst Mayer’s prologue to her 2002 book makes for very amusing reading when followed by her body-slam of neodarwinism). Which is to say, no existing theory of evolution explains the origin of species.I mean I am not a scientist by profession: I am an entrepreneur and investor. It pays a Hell of a lot better, and lets face it, financing my personal problems is expensive. But I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck biochemically either. And Darwinism as presently constituted is a load of hooey.** BTW by “information” I don’t mean Shannon information from “information theory”, which really isn’t information theory at all but rather is a theory of message-passing.

  • zippy says:

    I mean I’ll be honest with you Step2, I empathize with the idea that science teachers ought to keep their ideological baggage to themselves and teach what we know. (Incidentally that would entail teaching almost nothing about evolution). But what this professor did is certainly no worse than what the other professor I reference in my post did, and professors like the latter get a free pass.

  • Step2 says:

    < HREF="http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html" REL="nofollow">Some literature on speciation.<>< HREF="http://www.krl.caltech.edu/~adami/cas.html" REL="nofollow">Some experiments related to biocomplexity.<> The last group is written beyond my education level, but perhaps you can make sense of them.

  • A Philosopher says:

    How could there possibly be a problem of new information? Information is the cheapest thing in the world – it is continually flowing into every biological system in the world. So do you have any better reasons for thinking that evolutionary theory is a terrible scientific theory?

  • zippy says:

    <>So do you have any better reasons for thinking that evolutionary theory is a terrible scientific theory?<>That it doesn’t cohere with the facts. I mean at all.

  • zippy says:

    <>Information is the cheapest thing in the world – it is continually flowing into every biological system in the world.<>OK. If information is so cheap then hand over the cure for cancer. Be sure not to spend any more than $.02 acquiring it.

  • A Philosopher says:

    Zippy,On the first, could you provide a specific fact that evolutionary theory fails to cohere with?On the second, don’t be silly. That information is cheap obviously doesn’t entail that every single piece of information is readily available.

  • zippy says:

    <>On the first, could you provide a specific fact that evolutionary theory fails to cohere with?<>All of them.<>On the second, don’t be silly. That information is cheap obviously doesn’t entail that every single piece of information is readily available.<>Right. But it isn’t silly. Another example of a piece of information that is not cheap is how to start with a microbe and get a bird.

  • zippy says:

    Step2: thanks again for the links to talk.origins. But I don’t need the Church of Darwin or anyone else to tell me what to believe about evolution. I know how to do multiple sequence alignments on homologous proteins, how to build models and simulations of proteins in various ways, etc myself. I know how transposons, retrotransposons, and retroviruses work, and I’m at least passingly familiar with molecular biology and biophysics in general from graduate level work I have done myself. Neodarwinism is dispensible in pretty much all of modern biology (other than as a narrative gloss, which fulfills a human need not a scientific one). Darwinism is an example – perhaps the crowning example – of uncritical < HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truthiness" REL="nofollow">“truthiness”<>.

  • A Philosopher says:

    Zippy, you don’t even seem to be trying at this point.On the first: show me how the fact that 2 and 2 make 4 fails to cohere with evolutionary theory. I’ll even give you a contingent and biological fact: show me how the fact that humans have four-chambered hearts fails to cohere with evolutionary theory.On the second: what makes you think that evolutionary theory appeals to a causal role for the piece of information -how to start with a microbe and get a bird-? The fact that evolutionary theory has a causal story to tell about how an ecosystem can at one point have microbes and at a later point have birds does not, of course, entail that that specific piece of information plays any role in the transformation.

  • zippy says:

    <>…show me how the fact that humans have four-chambered hearts fails to cohere with evolutionary theory.<>Trivial. Neodarwinism claims that the four-chambered heart, as a matter of demonstrated historical fact, came into existence as a result of selective environmental pressures acting on random mutations in the precambrian prokaryotic genome. That claim goes against everything we know about what actually occurs as a result of mutations.

  • A Philosopher says:

    You’re not, then, providing a failure of coherence between evolutionary theory and the claim that humans have four-chambered hearts. Rather, you’re suggesting an incoherence among evolutionary theory, the claim that humans have four-chambered hearts, and some unstated claims about the nature of mutations. The unstated claims seem to be doing the bulk of the work here – care to make them explicit?

  • zippy says:

    It isn’t an “unstated” neodarwinist claim that random mutations provide the input to evolution and that natural selection chooses successful ones and kills off unsuccessful ones; and that this process has in fact produced the species diversity we see today. That claim gets stated all the time, and questioning it openly is dangerous to any but the most well-established scientist’s career.As Lynn Margulis says in _Acquiring Genomes_ (2002), “Many ways to induce mutations are known but none lead to new organisms. Mutation accumulation does not lead to new species or even to new organs or new tissues.”(I quote a respected biologist who may well win a Nobel prize on this point not to argue from authority but because you seem unwilling to accept that I know this to be the case myself from having studied the evidence. Naturally if you are so inclined you can take some graduate courses in molecular biology and biophysics and convince yourself that it is the case, if you think it necessary. And if that does not suffice, which in many cases it does not, well, you can lead a horse to water…)

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