Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Evolution as Fact and Theory

Appropriate that today we offer a guest blogger returned from the great beyond.

There were few scientists as capable as Stephen Gould at conveying subtle, complicated ideas in clear prose accessible to the lay reader. In 1981, he took on the nascent "creationist" cabal, then boosted by the imbecile Reagan. Before shredding their pseudo science, he demolished their strawman -- that evolution is "only" a theory:
In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is "only" a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science—that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was."

Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.

Moreover, "fact" does not mean "absolute certainty." The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

Evolutionists have been clear about this distinction between fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory—natural selection—to explain the mechanism of evolution. He wrote in The Descent of Man: "I had two distinct objects in view; firstly, to show that species had not been separately created, and secondly, that natural selection had been the chief agent of change. . . . Hence if I have erred in . . . having exaggerated its [natural selection's] power . . . I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations."
-- Stephen Jay Gould, Evolution as Fact and Theory (1981)

(A tip 'o the hoagie to Talk Origins Archive)

Monday, October 29, 2007

68% of Republicans

68% of Republicans APPROVE of the job President Bush is doing.

68% of Republicans DO NOT BELIEVE in evolution.

68% of Republicans are _____________________ (use your crayon).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Scran'en Hacks Eyeing Pocono Record

Hey, both reliable readers of this space know that I am loathe to criticize the newspapers ham-handedly run by a certain Scran'en family of non-journalist hacks. Now, with the Murdoch deal looming, there's a little local problem on the old horizon that needs some attention.

Murdoch is quoted as saying he'd like to kill off the New York Times. After his Wall Street Journal deal closes, the betting is that Murdoch will start slicing off some of the lesser-known properties in the Dow Jones stable. That includes the Pocono Record, which, it is widely anticipated, will go up on the block.

Those hacks in Scran'en have already set their sights on the Record.
Not too long ago, they hosted a "future of the Poconos" round table of sorts, which was a thinly-disguised attempt at market research. They Scran'en folk were too clumsy to hide their real intentions (even from some of the equally obtuse political types they brought into the discussions).

So the problem, kids, the real sadness here, is the dismantling of the Pocono Record as a real newspaper. That process was begun in-house when Dow Jones began cutting financial support for the paper to the bone, then it brought in a non-journalist advertising salesman as a neophyte publisher a couple of years ago, and finally they lost one the best editors that little paper has seen late last year. Now, it appears, if the non-journalist family of incompetents in Scran'en have their way, they will buy the paper and bury all hopes of news-hungry folk in Eastern and NEPA.

Then, the good people in the Poconos region will join the hapless saps in Scran'en, Wilkes Berry, and Hazleton (where the hacks at the pretend newspaper also own the papers) and be left without a reliable, professional, or ethical newspaper.

Louis "Alleged" DeNaples is Shocked!

Immediately before opening the doors to his new slots parlor in the Poconos, Louis "Alleged" DeNaples held a press conference. In the midst of his crowing, and of taking the congratulations from his "family", he was Shocked! that a reporter would ask him about the grand jury investigation into the possibility (vehemently denied) that he is a friend of theirs.

As reported in the Pocono Record, "Alleged" DeNaples angrily cut short a press conference when a journalist had the bad taste to ask about something more newsworthy than the $20,000 an hour in after-tax gross profit that "Alleged" was about to rake in on his first day:

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board gave the $412 million casino permission to open after two successful dry runs over the weekend, even as its owner, Louis DeNaples, remains a focus of a grand jury investigation.

A Dauphin County grand jury has been investigating whether DeNaples misled the gaming board when he said he had no connections to organized crime.

If the board learns that it was misled by a licensee, it can revoke the license.

A press conference with DeNaples ended abruptly Monday when a reporter asked him if he has ties to organized crime.

"I'm not interested in that type of question," DeNaples said, and walked away.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

That's the Way it Works Here, Kids

Hey, thanks for checking in.

After an extended absence from the keyboard, we're hopeful that, with a little more fiber in the old diet, we'll be much more regular again.

First on the radar screen is an old story, an old story line, and just a little bit 'o irony.

For the old story, Louis "I am not a crook" DeNaples' handed out over a million bucks to Rendel and Mellow and their friends and PACs, and those purchases, err, donations, seem to have paid off. His Mount Airy Casino opens to the public on Monday and, for the time-being at least, he'll not have a grand jury probe whispering behind his back -- thanks to the peculiar brand of political justice seemingly available to every well-connected bag 'o bucks in the good old Commonwealth.

No sooner had the intrepid gambling board given Denaples the green light, notwithstanding his felony fraud conviction and "oft-denied" mob-connections, two independent probes were launched. The federal probe cost the job of a US Attorney who's office was involved into the probe of DeNaples' mob-ties, despite the fact the the US Attorney had given a secret letter of recommendation attesting to his old pal Louis' integrity.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Supreme Court "Justice", Ron Castille, secretly granted DeNaples' request that the grand jury be put on ice. Predictably, the secret got out and, omigosh, it was a snafu, never meant it to be a secret . . . yeah, well.

And here's the old story line . . . . The Denaples petition is an unusual one. Under the rules of the Pa Supreme Court, it is referred to a single "Justice" for decision. The "Justice" responsible for receiving those petitions rotates periodically. The DeNaples petition got to Castille's desk just as he rotated into the assignment.

Coincidence? Well, kids, this is Pennsylvania, remember? This story can't be just one slight, ru n of the mill coincidence; nope, here it has got to be a stunning, credulity-stretching, mudda of a coincidence.

The DeNaples petition was drafted and signed by his lawyer, Richard Sprague. And here comes your mudda of a coincidence -- turns out that Dick Sprague's law school roommate was (alleged) "Justice" Ron Castille. (Seems that the only one in the state who noticed that little bit of coincidence was John Baer. Thankfully, there still are a few good journalists around the state.)

Welcome to Pennsylvania.

Oh, the irony I promised?

Guess who got an invite the other day to the Mount Airy private run-through opening tonight?

I was as shocked as anyone. I've never used a slot machine before, but knowing that it is all going to charity and none to Louis "alleged" DeNaples, well, that's just sweet coincidence.


A tip 'o the hoagie to John Micek for the lead on this one:

"This is Pennsylvania. Things of this nature don't happen in Pennsylvania except because of deals and corruption . . . . This is like putting out a sign to legitimate business people at the borders of Pennsylvania saying better pay up before you come to do business in pennsylvania. That's not the kind of reputation we need." -- PA State Senator --Jeff Piccola(10/21/07) on how Louis “Alleged” DeNaples got his slots parlor.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

God is Great

and who are we to question -- even if it amounts to pedophilia and infanticide in His service.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In the meantime . . . .

I shall be getting back to work on a regular basis. But, in the meantime, improve your vocabulary (or show off to co-workers) and simultaneously do some good here:

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Apologies . . . . .

For being AWOL, but I've been crushed with real-life work lately and trying to clear the decks to jaunt off to wine country this weekend. I'll be back on about October 10 . . . . .