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Greater Houston Skeptic Society Message Board › Texas Board of Education

Texas Board of Education

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Lyle S.
Houston, TX
Post #: 259
I'll see if I can burn a copy and bring it out the next meetup fer ya
A former member
Post #: 1
I haven't read ALL of the posts/replies, so maybe this has already been covered - if so, please ignore - but what's wrong with having Pro-ID input in our educational system? As long as it is only input, and not some force completely driving out other valid ideas. This is not an argument for or against Intelligent Design. I'm just saying, what's wrong with including people who have diverse opinions? There's a terrific documentary by Ben Stein called "EXPELLED" (http://www.expelledth...­) and it brings up many valid points. Truly scientific study, true academia, should allow freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that one shouldn't get too overly worked up because a member of a board or panel believes in Intelligent Design, or supports abortion, or denounces abortion, or likes honey in their coffee, or prefers Pepsi to Coke. Without my weighing in on whether or not ID is "true" or "valid" or even "reasonable", one ultimately gets around to the whole chicken-and-the-egg: If God created the Universe, who created God? If God can simply exist, why can't also the Universe? One can be fairly certain through scientific proof that the Earth is considerably older than six thousand years, but can one be certain that there isn't something beyond our own limited understanding of the Universe which has guided things and continues to guide them?

I had an idea for a science-fiction novel which tests the idea that all life as we know it - which is currently limited to life on Earth - is the product of a binary program written by an extra-terrestrial being - a nucleic acid-based self-replicating, self-mutating "virus". It might even be the product of some Wunderkind's school science project. They found an "empty" planet and wondered if they could produce a carbon-based "program" which could survive, even flourish, in such an environment so different from their own. DNA is binary programming, plain and simple. All life (as we know it) can be coded, recorded, and reproduced in a binary language. Sure, I came to this idea within the realm of writing a "science fiction" novel, but there's no way to prove absolutely that such an idea is not at least possible...

Now that I've spoken, and none of you have ever even met me, I hope I have not completely misunderstood the topic of this discussion and rambled along a moot point. I just don't believe in denouncing someone part-and-parcel for having a belief I cannot entirely prove as being impossible.
A former member
Post #: 2
Oh, wait... never mind. I forgot this is the "Greater Houston Skeptic Society"... what I meant to say was: "They're clearly trying to subvert our youth and poison their minds!"
user 7881900
Spring, TX
Post #: 17
Jeremy, you have some good points. However, if you have followed the track of ID over the past several years, you will see that they (mostly the Discovery Institute, but a couple other orgs as well), developed the ID concept specifically to replace the word 'creationism' and get around Supreme Court bans of introducing a wholly religious viewpoint into the classroom. Their own documents verify that ID is a way to introduce Christianity back into schools. They call it 'science' but they have produced NO research, NO peer-reviewed scholarly papers, NO evidence that ID is a valid science. They write books aimed at the scientifically illiterate masses, point to debate between scientists on mechanisms of evolution or uncertainties in cosmology, as 'proof' that these sciences are 'full of controversy'. It's all very disingenuous.

The ID group likes to say 'evolution is only a theory' which betrays a profound ignorance about what the word 'theory' means in the science world. GRAVITY is only a theory - it is the best explanation of observable phenomenon. I'm willing to drop my belief in gravity as soon as you show me a theory that better explains what we observe.

I can go on and on, and can reference several readable books for you, if you are interested, but suffice to say that, since the avowed goal of the group promoting ID is to rid schools of scientific materialism and promote a belief of creatio ex nihilo, it qualifies as religion, not science, and therefore has no place in a science classroom.
A former member
Post #: 3
Fair enough. I suppose I have spoken out of ignorance. I have been under the impression that believing Intelligent Design is just as valid a theory as the spontaneous random existence of the Universe. I have also been under the impression that Intelligent Design can exist side-by-side with Evolution - not that those who are "Pro-ID" must believe that evolution is "science fakery" and seek only to disallow the teaching of evolution in schools. I am whole-heartedly in support of allowing the exploration and teaching of multiple theories when no absolute is understood. I don't know what a "soul" is, but I know that there's something inside me that makes me unique among all life on Earth and something different from a soup of a specific mixture of elements. If someone wants to propose an alternate theory to explain the phenomenon of "gravity" I welcome hearing about that as well. But if to be "Pro-ID" means that you want to disallow the exploration of any other theories, including the Flying Spaghetti Monster or just that life is a mere cosmic accident, well, I would have to agree that we should do what we can to prevent that from creeping into our schools, or taking them over completely. However, I don't see anything wrong with someone believing that God created the origin of life and the Universe, and He designed Evolution to guide things thereafter. Whose to say that Dr. Seuss didn't have it all down-pat when he wrote Horton Hears A Who, and our entire universe isn't just a speck on a puff-ball in some other universe?

If this is what this group likes to meet and discuss, I'm am very much interested in participating. I love talking about anything that doesn't have an absolute answer. Absolutes make for very brief and mostly boring conversations. However, if this is just a group of atheists gathering to talk about how stupid someone else for even considering that there might be a higher power and intelligence beyond our comprehension, that's too close-minded for my taste and does not allow for any interesting conversations, and maybe the group name should be retitled to reflect such an enthusiasm.

And just to be fair here, I will state my stance more clearly: I am neither a pure-creationist nor a pure evolutionist. There are things that just don't quite add-up in both camps. I suppose I am still in search of a more unified theory, but ultimately I feel we are not to know an absolute answer to this question. Knowing for certain where "life and everything" comes from and why it's here and what's our purpose would take a lot out of the game. Not knowing the answers keeps things interesting. And, really, isn't that what "skeptical" really means? "Philosophy relating to the theory that certain knowledge is impossible." If you BELIEVE that "Evolution is right and Intelligent Design is wrong", you are not being skeptical at all, are you?
A former member
Post #: 1
Actually that isn't quite correct Jeremy. We are not so-called "know nothing" skeptics. Skepticism is the evaluation of all available evidence, taking into account the inherent weaknesses of the human mind in interpreting the world around us, before coming to a tentative conclusion. We accept evolution based on the weight of the evidence supporting it and reject ID as non-science. It isn't even wrong in the sense that it isn't an answerable question. We practice skepticism as an extension of a methodological naturalism (not metaphysical naturalism). We don't say that there can't exist that which is beyond our comprehension but that we can only investigate and study the world via the scientific method. Things that can't be tested, like ID, are not science and while it is fine if one wants to believe in it, it should not be confused as science and taught in public science classrooms. I highly recommend checking out http://www.expelledex...­ before you make up your mind on Ben Stein's documentary. I think you will be suprised by just how dishonest and full of misinformation it truly was.

You stated that, "I don't know what a "soul" is, but I know that there's something inside me that makes me unique among all life on Earth and something different from a soup of a specific mixture of elements." This reasoning is a good example of something that would fall under intese scrutiny in a meeting of skeptics. There may be a soul, we can't say with certainty one way or the other, but it isn't a testable claim. What we do know is that the materialistic explanations for the existence of the mind, or conciousness, have been extremely successful in making predictions that are backed up by scientific testing. There is no need for a supernatural explanation and Occam's razor would support leaving it off the table at this point. Furthermore, skeptics attempt to fight the all too human tendency to appeal to a number of logical fallacies when assigning causal relationships. Pointing out these errors in logic, such as the argument from personal incredulity used in the above quote, is a perfect example of how we approach claims.

I think that you would enjoy coming to a meeting, and I think that all parties involved would gain from any discussion that arose regarding these topics. One thing that we should strive to avoid is groupthink.
Mike O.
user 7892622
Tomball, TX
Post #: 8
The idea that God created everything is certainly a valid idea to consider. The point that everyone seems to miss, though, is that if we assume the existence of God, with all the attributes commonly held for that being, then we have to assume that God can do anything He wants regardless of natural law. Such actions would be unquantifiable and unpredictable, the two most basic things you need in order to conduct science at the level of theory. In this sense, the existence of God is perfectly reconcilable with science in that science simply can't go there. Any test you could run would not arrive at the conclusion that "God did it"; there's a total disconnect there. To sum up this point, God could well have created the universe and thought up evolution and what not, and it would be totally undetectable by us. As Naomi said, this just doesn't belong in a science classroom.

But--what we don't have is evidence of things that have occurred outside of natural law. That at least would be the giveaway that something else is happening. Mere mystery is clearly not enough to say something is unexplainable; we would have to see something that is not only unexplained, but clearly violates known and well tested principles. Dark matter and dark energy, for example, do not explicitly violate any known principles, but have only opened new areas of inquiry into the actions of matter and energy. A toaster suddenly turning into a duck or a perpetual motion machine would be examples of things that clearly violate well established principles. Until we see these types of things, the existence of supernatural intervention can only be considered a matter of opinion, and therefore faith.

I have to take issue with your statement that skepticism is a "Philosophy relating to the theory that certain knowledge is impossible." I've never heard any skeptic state a belief that there was anything unknowable, in fact, quite the opposite. Skeptics are those who look for answers, if they didn't, they wouldn't care. Skepticism simply demands proof, or at least plausibility. It doesn't explicitly denounce things that are unproven or even unlikely, though admittedly there are those who make it seem so. Mostly this occurs when discussing topics that are that have just been done to death. The "true believers", as we call them, trot out the same weak and silly arguments and have been doing so through the entire history of scientific inquiry. So we're really just tired of it and sometimes it comes out sort of snarky.

As to "a group of atheists gathering to talk about how stupid someone else for even considering that there might be a higher power", you won't hear much of that either. Many prominent skeptics are not atheists. Michael Shermer, for instance, was once an evangelical christian and is one of the founding fathers of the skeptical movement. He makes it very clear that he is not an atheist. Carl Sagan, another founding father, said "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no God." But many just find it a moot point. Rebbecca Watson said it best when she described herself as "A philosophical agnostic, but a practical atheist."

I, for one, would welcome you at our meetings. Skeptics love nothing more than a debate, but personally I think there needs to be more actual discussion leading to respect and understanding rather than opposition and demonizing. The alternative is to become the type of zealots that we denounce. And after all, generally we don't believe that there is any cosmic directive on what humans should be doing, so as we're striving for our own personal type of enlightenment, we should not forget to amuse ourselves.
Mike O.
user 7892622
Tomball, TX
Post #: 9
I want to clarify something I said in my above post. When skeptics use the term "true believer", we are usually talking about belief in scientifically unsupportable claims, such as bigfoot, UFOs, psychic powers, etc., NOT religious faith. My context didn't make this clear.
A former member
Post #: 4
I want to thank both Clay and Mike for their intelligent and respectful comments. As I am new to the "skeptical movement", I appreciate the clarification on certain points.

With regard to the Ben Stein movie that I mentioned and Mike followed up with, I want to state that I do not say or believe Ben Stein to be 100% correct. If someone wants to believe that his documentary is "false", "misleading", or "anti-science" (and I am not suggestion that Mike or Clay are the sources of those quotes), that's fine with me. My interest in the film and my respect for Ben Stein is in that I agree with his assertion that Intelligent Design is certainly a possible answer to the questions "Where did it all come from?" and "Why am I here?" To suggest that life, nature, and the cosmos are guided by a set of rules/laws put in place by some higher intelligence, in my opinion, is not non-science. It is merely an alternative theory. Just as science can hypothesize that there was a "Big Bang", and science can even hypothesize that there is an expansion and contraction of the Universe as a never-ending cycle. Until science is able to travel freely back and forth through time, and bear witness to "the beginning and end of the Universe", anything science theorizes is just a theory, and no more "scientific" or "measurable" than certain theories of "Intelligent Design".

My caution, and what I took away from Ben Stein's film, is that many atheists and "scientists" are too quick to dismiss Intelligent Design "as a scientific theory" based on, mostly what I assume to be, a gut response to "religious zealots" with "an agenda" - which certainly do exist, I do not contest.

I agree, however, that there is a very real distinction between "science" and "faith", and that there is great danger is confusing the two. Anyone who says that "Intelligent Design IS", in my opinion, is just as wrong as anyone who says "Intelligent Design ISN'T". Going back to Ben Stein's film and the link you provided, I feel that those with an anti-faith agenda target certain specifics in Stein's documentary in an extremely biased manner, attempting to dismiss the film entirely, as opposed to simply making an attempt at "correcting" certain "flaws" or "inaccuracies" in the film. Again, what I took away most from the film was that Ben Stein's main objective was to show that people were and are being unfairly treated in the academic communities for simply stating that Intelligent Design is a mere possibility. And if one watches Stein's film, one sees that nearly every person highlighted as being unfairly treated refers to Intelligent Design merely as a theory that should not be summarily dismissed, and they do not speak of Intelligent Design from a "faith" stance.

Sure, I can see how detractors of the film would take exception to how Stein highlights certain things in a manner to suggest that Intelligent Design is a more probably solution to certain observable phenomenon (I believe it is most heavily suggested in reference to certain cellular and biological processes, as well as a heavy emphasis when going back to the leap from a soup of chemicals to the first "life"), but that is still a "scientific approach", in my opinion. Simply stating that Intelligent Design *may* have be involved in that initial leap, versus saying that mere random chance allowed it to happen... why is Intelligent Design any less scientific? Are we saying that "random chance" is pure science? Are we saying that attributing "random chance" to anything that does have an obvious solution is more scientific than attributing "Intelligent Design"? I believe that a true skeptic should question both "answers" equally, as I do.

And coming back to a "true skeptic" and my original quoted definition which several people have either taken exception to or disagreed with, it was not a definition that I concocted, but a definition that I actually pulled from the dictionary. Other similar definitions paint the term as "refusing or reluctant to believe." So, sure, a "true skeptic" should refuse to believe in "Intelligent Design", but should equally refuse to believe in "random chance".

All in all, I would say that Mike and Clay and myself are all on the same page here: those who *believe* in Intelligent Design are clearly not "skeptics", just as those who *believe* Intelligent Design to be wrong are not "skeptics" either.

I do enjoy debates/conversations of this nature and will welcome a more personal get together in the future!
Mike O.
user 7892622
Tomball, TX
Post #: 10
Well, here we are back at some of those old arguments. First of all, ID might charitably be called a hypothesis, but not a theory. A hypothesis is an idea about what might be going on. A theory is explains observations, is testable through experimentation, and makes predictions. Period. The popular definition of a theory of "an unproven idea" is wrong. This is commonly noted against evolution in the over-used statement "it's just a theory." ID is simply not testable, and cannot respond to experimentation, for the reasons I outlined in my previous post.

As far as the definition of skepticism, my Webster's says:

1a: the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain. b: the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism characteristic of skeptics. 2: an attitude or disposition towards doubt. 3: doubt concerning certain religious principles.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Note 1a: no scientist or skeptic would posit that true knowledge is possible. Science just doesn't work that way. There is weight by evidence, but since science is primarily a collection and study of evidence, then there is always the possibility that further evidence will overturn previous theories. But in the case of something like evolution, we're pretty much at the level of fine tuning, not overturning.

As to the remarks about "random chance": this is an old strawman argument. No scientist considers the reactions that are believed to lead to life--or any chemical reactions--to be random. Rather, such reactions are inevitable when occurring in certain conditions. That's chemistry. The tendency to form these structures is built into the design of the elements and chemicals involved. Why is this never used as evidence of ID? This is just as disingenuous as using the "just a theory" statement, when they know better but want to sound authoritative to the uninformed masses.

As far as the likelihood of the necessary conditions, there are thought to be in excess of 10>27 (>=superscript. If I have my superscript number wrong, someone correct me. I'm going off memory) stars in the universe. That's more than the number of grains of sand on every beach in the world, I'm told. Given what we now know about the the formation of stars and planets, it is likely that most if not all stars form a planetary system. Even given that all those systems would not have a planet in the "habitable zone," as it is known, we also know that there are situations that can create the necessary conditions outside that zone, as in the satellite systems of Jupiter and Saturn, which would normally be considered to be too cold. Then, given a planetary surface which has the necessary conditions, the number of sites where chemicals are interacting even on a single planet may be incalculable--seeing as how it is every microscopic location where the chemicals are in contact with one another. So if it's just a question of odds, it's not hard to see that if assumptions about chemical interactions are true then life (at least the simplest forms) would not be rare at all, but inevitable.

And lastly, in response to "I believe that a true skeptic should question both "answers" equally, as I do". There seems to be a misinterpretation that skeptics are people who actively disbelieve in things. Also, another phrase commonly used is that "skeptics aren't open minded." To both of these claims: skeptics are led by the evidence. Period. Individuals may be cynical or complacent but a "true skeptic" would be someone who follows the concept of evidence. As noted above, true and total knowledge may well be impossible but it's hard to imagine a better way to approach it than using evidence and testing. Given this, at some point you just have to admit that certain things are likely, certain things are extremely likely, and certain things are unlikely, since we can't be entirely certain. Scientific agnosticism, if you will.

My usual response to the IDers when they say we are not open minded is that scientists are open to any new possibility and frequently do change their minds when appropriate, whereas the IDers claim not to have learned anything new in 6000 years and call it a virtue.

Besides, I have never met a scientist or skeptic who wouldn't be giddy with delight to discover that bigfoot, psychic powers, or UFOs were real. Seriously, ask around. Most of us grew up entranced by such subjects, or were strongly religious, and were just a little miffed to grow up and find out that it ain't necessarily so. Which I suspect is why some of us can come across as snarky or cynical at times. But you'll also find more who have a positive and optimistic outlook on life, as curiosity and learning about the nature of the universe, as well as realizing the potential of the human mind, can be quite inspiring.

More to the point, is that discussions like this are what folks at the Discovery Institute want. It gives legitimacy to their arguments. This isn't about whether there is or is not a God or what He might have done, or about "academic freedom", their latest ploy. It's about a small group of folks who have something stuck in their craw (evolution) that really has nothing at all to do with the practice of morality. Yet they want you to believe that evolution=immorality. It's really that simple and idiotic. This is only the latest in a long, long history of trying to put their brand of religion in public schools. The term intelligent design" was invented to replace earlier terminology that was rejected in court and has itself been pegged as a religious doctrine in court as well (watch the NOVA episode on the Dover trial on PBS website, or look up the transcripts). "Thus the new "academic freedom" angle. They're just trying to get their foot in the door, they really aren't even slightly interested in discussions about science. They only use the aura of science to imply legitimacy. Make no mistake: if these people could pass a law tomorrow that forced everyone in the country to adhere their religion, they would do it in a heartbeat. For our own good of course. THAT'S what skeptics are up in arms about, not concern over what others believe or how they express it. The IDers smartly keep us on the defensive, which is a poor position in war or debate.

'Nuff said.

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