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eSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009  |  ISSN 1556-5696

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In this week’s eSkeptic:

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Skeptics Mix Tape 2009

Think the best skepticism is the kind you can rock to? We’re pleased to offer you a unique collection of songs of science and skepticism — completely free!

Assembled by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton, these free MP3s are available for download from Skeptic.com. All songs are G-rated (or close to it) and free for non-commercial personal or classroom use.

We’re immensely grateful to all of the artists who contributed songs for this project, from Jonathan Coulton, to Artichoke, to George Hrab, to Hard ‘n Phirm. Of special note, the offering from bluegrass trio Dirty Dishes was recorded especially for the Skeptics Society. Even more exciting is Coco Love Alcorn’s brand new song “Thinking Cap” — written specifically for the Skeptics Mix Tape 2009, and never available anywhere until today!

Also included are Public Service Announcements for use on radio or podcasts. We’ll be expanding this section soon, so check back often.

Like this project? Tell people about it! Link to the Skeptics Mix Tape at www.skeptic.com/mixtape09, or share the page on Facebook.

EXPLORE the mix tape

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Skepticality: The Official Podcast of Skeptic Magazine

Donald Prothero

screenshot from the “The Jenny McCarthy Body Count” website

Jenny McCarthy Body Count?

Though the celebrated and the famous have long used the glare of the spotlight to highlight personal causes, rarely has fame been used to such staggering effect as by Jenny McCarthy. Since 2007, this former Playboy model now turned autism activist has advocated for parents to stop vaccinating their children against deadly diseases.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Derek Bartholomaus, creator of “The Jenny McCarthy Body Count” website. This chilling and controversial site utilizes data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to keep a running tally of illnesses and deaths from vaccine preventable diseases — a sobering reminder of the human cost of anti-vaccination rhetoric.

On a lighter note, Derek & Swoopy also talk with Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton about the launch of the “Skeptics Mix Tape” project. This eclectic collection of songs of science and skepticism are available as free MP3s from Skeptic.com.

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LISTEN to episode #104 (30MB MP3)

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In this week’s eSkeptic, Darren Iammarino reviews Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action, by Philip Clayton (Fortress Press, 2008)

Darren Iammarino is a Ph.D. candidate in his final semester of coursework at Claremont Graduate University. His areas of specialization are comparative religious studies and philosophy of religion. Iammarino is currently working on his own constructive theology known as Cosmosyntheism, as well as publishing a novel self-cultivation system in a forthcoming book: The Compass Path.

composite of details from book cover

composite of details from Adventures in the Spirit cover

The Emergence of God

by Darren Iammarino

In his recent book, Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, and Divine Action, Philip Clayton presents a constructive theology that endeavors to reconcile insights from the sciences with the wisdom derived from two thousand years of Christian tradition. The task is daunting, but through a methodical and lucid point-by-point progression, Clayton succeeds in providing the reader with a truly novel way of understanding God and the God-world relationship for the 21st Century.

The book is separated into five sections: The Methods of Philosophy and Theology, Emergence, Panentheism, Divine Action, and the Theological Adventure Applied. Section one sets the stage by explaining the numerous challenges that theology faces today given the major advances in the fields of biology and physics. An informative discussion of the differences between religious truth and scientific truth, plus a succinct account of the contemporary religion-science debate comprises the remainder of the first section.

item of interest…

Frank Tipler and Lawrence Krauss

Another Great God Debate: Frank Tipler versus Lawrence Krauss: Can Physics Prove God & Christianity?
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Section two shifts gears and moves into the field of evolutionary biology, in particular the current debate over emergent theories of evolution. Clayton explains that emergence, in contrast to scientific reductionism, is characterized by the fact that higher-order phenomena cannot be fully comprehended by merely applying the laws of lower-order disciplines. In other words, science isn’t or should not be, just about reducing life to the realm of physics and chemistry. Clayton further shows that emergence draws a healthy middle ground between reductionism on one end and dualist theories on the other end. Dualistic theories refuse to accept that certain phenomena, such as mind or spirit, can have any relation to a material substrate or lower type of order. The purpose of the lengthy discussion of emergence is to lead us to an understanding of mind and spirit which, according to emergence theories, require a new conceptual framework in order to be properly understood.

One possible conceptual framework for elucidating the nature and function of mind, spirit and God is put forth by Clayton in section three. The philosophical position known as panentheism or, all things within God, is employed to highlight the workings of mind and spirit. Clayton presents us with an extended and in-depth look at different versions of panentheism, ranging from German Idealists, to 20th century Process Theology thinkers. Clayton writes, “The strength of the panentheistic analogy is that it takes the highest level of emergence known to us and uses it as the model for the divine reality. The highest level we know is the level of human personhood” (131). The question for Clayton is did the universe require a transcendent Source or Ground for all that is, or is the universe merely in a natural, yet meaningless process of emergence from simplicity to complexity?

The concept of emergence seems to point in the direction of a “deising” universe evolving from extreme simplicity, but Clayton argues that the logic of emergence need not be taken in this nearly atheistic way. Clayton believes that the universe requires a transcendent agent to act as the Ground and initiator of the process of emergence. It is at this point that two traditional, yet confusing, doctrines of the Christian faith are invoked: Trinity and kenosis. First, the inner-trinitarian relations represent a divine community. This is important for Clayton, because the interactions within the immanent Trinity provide a crucial metaphor for comprehending the God-World relationship. Unlike classical trinitarian doctrine, trinitarian panentheism suggests that the created world is within God and is therefore, a key contributor and participant within the divine (173).

Kenosis or self-emptying is central to the author’s vision because it explains how the process of creation began, while simultaneously affirming the centrality of God as love. Frequent biblical references are made for support of kenosis, in the sense of overflowing goodness and self-giving, or self-emptying, such as Phil 2:5–9:

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.

item of interest…

Origins and The Big Questions:
Conference 2008. Part 4 (DVD cover)

Part 4 of our 2008 annual conference: Origins & The Big Questions. This DVD includes: The Great God Debate: Does Science Support Belief in a Deity? with Dr. Hugh Ross v. Dr. Victor Stenger. This debate wwas moderated by Dr. Philip Clayton.
ORDER the 5-part set

It was this kenosis that allowed for the world to be created ex nihilo. However, immediately following the act of creation via God’s self-limitation of power, God’s experience from that moment onward evolves along with the world’s choices. At this point, Clayton is in agreement with Process Theology that God and the World interact via their dipolar natures. Nonetheless, God and the creatures of the world are quite different. “Human agents differ from the divine in their nature: finite, not infinite; existing contingently rather than existing in all possible worlds; sometimes placing their own limited interests above the divine rather than being by nature perfectly good” (180).

An explanation of divine action according to emergence follows and comprises the bulk of section four. Clayton suggests, in line with process thought, that God guides the process of evolution by providing possibilities and lures for further development, but does not coerce any creatures to make specific decisions. This creaturely freedom is due to God’s free self-limitation of power at the moment of creation. The book concludes with an appeal to Christians and scientists for the importance of “the many faces of integration” within a globalized world.

Summarizing the main points, we find that emergence implies theism, but not any form of classical Christianity. Both scientists and Christians must be willing to seek a new synthesis that does justice to the truths of both disciplines. One new way of conceiving God that overcomes problems in classical theology, such as the paradox of God being love, yet somehow wholly transcendent, immutable and separate, is to understand God panentheistically. Clayton suggests a biblical basis for panentheism, as in Acts 17:28: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” As for the scientist, emergence theories have shown that new levels require new explanations. The realm of the mind and spirit have been dealt with by theologians for millennia, so perhaps these religious insights may help to explain persistent ambiguities within strictly scientific understandings of evolution and emergence.

The first eight chapters of Dr. Clayton’s book are a lucid explanation of the science of emergence and complexity. The following three chapters, transition to Dr. Clayton’s own constructive theology, which incorporates the concepts introduced throughout the first part of the book. However, Clayton’s “open kenotic panentheism” leaves one asking a few questions. The first problem hinges on what is known as the immanent Trinity, or the Trinity before the creation of the world. How can the Trinity, if it is already a much higher emergent level of reality, precede the quantum, chemical and biological levels? This seems to go against the whole argument for emergent complexity proposed in the previous chapters.

The other major points of confusion from chapter 9 revolve around the notions of genuine otherness in the world and the problems of evil and freedom. The doctrine of kenosis or self-emptying means that God is the ground of all that is and this leaves Clayton’s system open to the standard criticisms from neo-atheists. Ultimately, it is challenging to understand how Clayton’s conception of God can be exonerated from culpability for the many evils present in the world. One can also object that if God emptied him or herself of power in order to create other beings, then in theory, why can’t God decide to reverse this decision some day? This is a problem for genuine freedom and for the apparent reality that there are genuine others co-existing within this world. In other words, how are the “other subjects genuine others to Godself” if God is the Source of all (156)?

book cover

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Chapter 10 presents the reader with two further paradoxes. If the Ground within God is not conscious (170), how can God make primordial selections? Also, one learns that, “God could have existed with no less perfection without us” (173). It is bizarre to imagine that God would have created a world, if God gained nothing from it. For process thought, which Clayton is attempting to incorporate, God lacks experiential knowledge, but gains this experience through a reciprocal interaction with the world. The final problem, which is revealed in chapter 11, is how to make sense of the functions of the members of a Trinity before creation. The roles of the Son and the Holy Spirit do not seem to make any sense if there is not already a world with which God interacts.

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Creationism in 3-D

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Who Was Punked? The Skeptics or the Psychics?

In this week’s SkepticBlog, Michael Shermer blogs about his experience getting punked while testing psychics for a Showtime series called “Versus.”

eSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009  |  ISSN 1556-5696

Want to comment on or share this eSkeptic?
View: www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-07-22 

In this week’s eSkeptic:

The latest additions to MichaelShermer.com and SkepticBlog.org

the latest additions to
MichaelShermer.com and SkepticBlog.org

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Shermer on Larry King Live with the UFOlogists

A couple times a year, in between his celebfest of stars, Larry King hosts the UFOlogists who regale the talk show king with an endless parade of blurry photographs, grainy videos, and breathless tales of government coverups and conspiracies. Enter Michael Shermer to set things straight…
WATCH the video

Toward a Type I Civilization

In this week’s Skepticblog post, Michael suggests that the solution to our energy problems requires more than new technologies —�it requires a new type of civilization.
READ the blog post



a chapter from The Science of Good & Evil

Science of Good and Evil (CD cover)

DOWNLOAD the sample MP3 (17MB)

In his book The Science of Good and Evil, Dr. Michael Shermer tackles the question of why we are moral? That is, what is the basis for morality, how do we know the difference between right and wrong, and from whence did good and evil come, god or evolution? In this free audio download of the first chapter, Dr. Shermer considers whether moral principles are sound because they come from God, or that God approves certain moral principles because they are sound on their own, and if therefore moral principles stand alone — separate from whether or not there is a god. That is, can morality transcend religion and human convention? Can we get past the binary choice of morals being either absolute (always right or wrong) or relative (anything goes)? Here Dr. Shermer outlines his theory of morality based on evolutionary principles and the fact that we are a social primate species who evolved moral tendencies toward altruism, cooperation, and pro-sociality, and that we really are moral animals. DOWNLOAD the sample MP3 (17MB)

In this week‘s eSkeptic, Daniel Loxton, Editor of Junior Skeptic (and the organizer behind What Do I Do Next? 105 Practical Ways to Promote Skepticism and Advance Science) addresses the importance of Wikipedia. Find out how grassroots skeptics can help ensure that Wikipedia is a science-based public resource.


Fix Wikipedia: make the people's encyclopedia a science-based resource

Is it Worth Paying Attention to Wikipedia?

Yes, it absolutely is. This is a shining opportunity for the skeptical movement. Wikipedia is among the most important public sources for almost any scientific, pseudoscientific, or paranormal topic. A Wikipedia article is almost always the number one Google hit for that subject.

Amazingly, any grassroots skeptic can make responsible improvements to that source at any time, easily and for free.

As you learn the ropes, move slowly & cautiously. Start small. Be bold, but edit carefully. Make a meaningful contribution to science & skepticism.

You can personally correct any Wikipedia article. As long as you can cite references, you can add the best available skeptical information to any article that needs it. When you add footnote references, you can even link directly to skeptical websites. You don’t need anyone’s permission. For simple text edits, you don’t even need web coding skills. Best of all, it’s rewarding and fun to use your skeptical knowledge to enhance an essential public resource.

Furthermore, we know from our internal traffic statistics that people really do follow up on the skeptical resources cited in Wikipedia articles. (More people find Skeptic.com through Wikipedia than through Google!)

For an in-depth primer, see “Why Skeptics Should Pay Close Attention to Wikipedia,” by Tim Farley.

How to Get Started

As a free encyclopedia anyone can edit, Wikipedia is an almost-utopian project — but it works. Why? Wikipedia has a culture of rules, and a vast community of editors who care about those rules. It’s easy for beginners to make mistakes, but (luckily!) the culture of Wikipedia is also easy to learn.

The key is that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. It’s not a soapbox for you personally, for the skeptical movement, or for any other interest group. The standard for Wikipedia articles is therefore a “Neutral Point of View” or NPoV. (Wikipedia does have a special policy for pseudoscience that relaxes this NPoV standard, but Wiki editors should always strive for the highest degree of objectivity and rigor.)

To help maintain this, Wikipedia requires reliable third-party citations for opinions and statements of fact. It also requires that notable criticism of any group or concept be described (with citations), and that topics be accurately placed in context against the prevailing current of expert opinion. (Wikipedia’s NPoV policy requires that articles not give “undue weight” to fringe positions.)

These responsible policies open great opportunities for skeptics to contribute. When paranormal assertions are made without support from reliable references, these statements can be flagged for citation — or, where appropriate, removed. Where a paranormal article fails to acknowledge scientific criticism, or fails to place a fringe position in its proper context, this criticism or context can be added. Furthermore, citations can link to relevant skeptical resources.

Before getting started, please familiarize yourself Wikipedia’s formatting rules and Manual of Style.

Then, just go to the Wikipedia article for your favorite paranormal topic and see what needs fixing!

Edit Boldly—But Be Careful!

Wikipedia has a policy called Be Bold! If you see something wrong, fix it! Your corrections are not an imposition — they are the engine that drives Wikipedia.

But editing Wikipedia is still editing. By its nature, editing other people's hard work calls for extreme care. As you learn the ropes, move slowly and cautiously. Start small.

Stick to the NPoV wherever possible. When a topic is “generally considered pseudoscience by the scientific community,” Wikipedia’s policy on pseudoscience allows the article to state that scientific verdict and label the topic as “pseudoscience.” Nevertheless, you should strive to remain objective and to avoid loaded statements. Avoid statements like “Astrology is fraudulent nonsense.” Instead, find relevant sources and cite them, as in this example:

Astrology is generally considered a pseudoscience by the scientific community. Skeptics argue that the concept is implausible,1,2 unintelligible,3 and unsupported by evidence.4,5 Notably, large scale tests such as (describe one) have failed to reveal any astrological effect.6 There is also strong disagreement within the community of astrologers. Some proponents contend that X,7 while others believe Y8 or Z.9

See a typo? Don’t even hesitate: hit the “edit” or “edit this page” buttons and make the change. Likewise, if you find vandalism (such as random obscenities) or obvious nonsense (“Uri Geller is a pterodactyl”) remove these immediately.

As you get the hang of it, you may wish to start adding “citation needed” flags, adding relevant references for disputed or unsupported assertions, or inserting new material. Take your time, and remember that Wikipedia has an error-correction mechanism: if you make a mistake (or push too hard) another editor is liable to reverse your edits.

You may eventually work your way up to more ambitious efforts, such as adding new articles. In the meantime, you have an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to science and skepticism — right now, today. Wikipedia is only a click away, so get started!

Why Haven’t Skeptics Acted on this Before?

Actually, many skeptics are already working to ensure that skeptical subject matter is discussed responsibly on Wikipedia. In addition to the thousands of individual skeptics who make an occasional edit, there are also organized efforts underway.

One effort you may wish to join is the Wikiproject Rational Skepticism, a voluntary association of skeptical Wikipedia editors. These editors keep a watchlist of articles of interest, cooperating to keep an eye on those for improvement and ongoing maintenance.

This sort of vigilance is very important. Like you, paranormal proponents (or even deliberate con men) can change anything they like at any moment. An article that was fine yesterday might be crazy today — and it will stay crazy until an editor like you checks it and fixes it.

You may also be interested in a lower-traffic project external to Wikipedia, called Skepticwiki. This is a standalone, explicitly skeptical encyclopedia project that shares the format of Wikipedia.

Topics to Tackle—or Avoid

Many skeptical Wiki editors tackle topics about skepticism: pages for various skeptical organizations and publications, or for prominent skeptics. Those efforts are very useful, but you may wish to concentrate on the areas where a skeptical eye is really needed — articles for paranormal topics.

When people turn to Wikipedia for information on iridology or “reptoids” or chiropractic, that article may often be the only source they consult. Or, if they do consult further sources, these may often be the sources cited in the Wikipedia article. Either way, paranormal proponents have been quick to load Wikipedia with content and citations that are friendly to their own claims. Sometimes, these articles are virtual commercials for paranormal industries. In those cases, skeptics can perform a valuable public service by bringing paranormal articles up to the NPoV standard with descriptions of skeptical criticism and references to relevant skeptical sources.

Oddly, the best Wikipedia topics for beginners are the most obscure. High-profile topics (like “CSICOP,” or “homeopathy”) attract lots of attention and edits from proponents and critics alike, leading to relatively neutral articles. That’s Wikipedia’s error correction mechanism in action: lots of critical eyes. Often, those topics stabilize to a tense compromise, watched like a hawk by opposed editors, with long arguments over small changes.

On lesser-known subjects, paranormal proponents have the freedom to make sweeping, biased, and wildly unsupported claims. These low-quality articles stand unchallenged until a skeptic eventually happens to review them. Finding and fixing these is fun and satisfying for skeptical editors. Because those articles are so bad, they are easy to improve — and edits will tend to stand for a longer time.

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eSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009  |  ISSN 1556-5696

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View: www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-08-12 

In this week’s eSkeptic:


a Chapter from Science Friction

Science Friction (CD cover)

DOWNLOAD the sample MP3 (29MB)

In a collection of essays, Dr. Michael Shermer explores the difference between the known and the unknown, and between science and pseudoscience, covering a wide range of topics with the common theme of how we know anything is true. In this free audio download from Chapter 1 of Science Friction, Dr. Shermer recounts his experiences as a psychic for a day, in which he pretended to be a psychic, astrologer, palm reader, and tarot card reader for a television show. He convinced a number of people that he could actually talk to their dead loved ones, read their astrological chart or palms, and divine their future through tarot cards. Dr. Shermer explains the process of cold reading, in which through tried-and-true techniques you can convince almost anyone that you have genuine psychic powers.
DOWNLOAD the sample MP3 (29MB)

book cover

In this week’s eSkeptic, Glenn Branch reviews But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy. (Updated edition, edited by Robert T. Pennock and Michael Ruse).

Glenn Branch is deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit organization that works to defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools. With Eugenie C. Scott he edited Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools.

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Reaction to the Scopes trial: Anti-Evolution League in Dayton, Ohio, July 25, 1925 (Literary Digest)

Philosophers, Creationists
& Serious Brainiacs

a book review by Glenn Branch

“Philosophy,” according to H. L. Mencken, “consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself.” At the Scopes trial, which Mencken covered for the Baltimore Sun, there were no philosophers testifying. It was not for want of trying. George Rappleyea, the impresario of the event, unsuccessfully attempted to recruit John Dewey to testify in defense of Scopes. In 1922, Dewey decried William Jennings Bryan’s “efforts to hold back biological inquiry and teaching,” which inspired Tennessee’s Butler Act, under which Scopes was prosecuted. But Rappleyea’s interest in the philosopher was probably just on account of his celebrity: earlier he had proposed to Scopes, “Why not bring a lot of doctors and preachers here? Let’s get H. G. Wells and a lot of big fellows.” The defense team eventually recruited a dozen expert witnesses, including neither Dewey nor Wells, but to no avail. On July 17, 1925, the judge ruled that the court would not hear expert testimony on either evolution or its consistency with Genesis. Mencken, writing, “All that remains of the great cause of the State of Tennessee against the infidel Scopes is the final business of bumping off the defendant,” promptly departed for Baltimore, thus managing to miss Clarence Darrow’s demolition of Bryan on the stand.

How would Mencken have reacted to the fact that in a 1982 sequel to the Scopes trial, McLean v. Arkansas, the court’s decision finding Arkansas’s Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act to be unconstitutional was heavily indebted to the expert testimony of a philosopher, Michael Ruse? Or to the fact that in a 2005 sequel to McLean — Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District — no fewer than six people with doctoral degrees in philosophy were originally slated to testify as expert witnesses? Or to the fact that in Kitzmiller, four of the six were witnesses for the defense, and thus expected to testify in support of the Dover Area School District’s policy that “students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design”? Mencken surely would have been mordantly amused by the fate of those four. William A. Dembski and Stephen C. Meyer withdrew from the case, owing to a dispute between the Thomas More Law Center, which represented the district, and the Discovery Institute, the de facto institutional home of intelligent design creationism, and Warren Nord was never called to the stand. Only Steve Fuller, a philosopher-turned-sociologist, actually testified — so hyperkinetically that when a recess was called, the judge advised Fuller on his choice of refreshment: “Water or decaf only.”

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Two philosophers testified for the plaintiffs: Robert T. Pennock, whose Tower of Babel was the first, and is still a highly important, philosophical assessment of intelligent design creationism, and Barbara Forrest, who chronicled the activity of the intelligent design movement in her Creationism’s Trojan Horse (coauthored with Paul R. Gross). Forrest relentlessly exposed the creationist antecedents of intelligent design — even discovering the exemplary transitional form “cdesign proponentsists,” mistakenly formed when the authors of the intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People incompletely cut-and-pasted “creationists” with “design proponents”. Pennock, for his part, concentrated on the philosophical issues. (As a result, he was dubbed “a serious, serious brainiac” by the York Daily Record’s Mike Argento, the H. L. Mencken of the Kitzmiller trial.) Like Ruse before him, Pennock explained the nature of science, arguing that creationism failed to qualify as a bona fide scientific endeavor, leading the court to conclude that, despite the claims of its proponents, creationism is not a credible scientific alternative to evolution and thus, as a religious view, cannot constitutionally be taught as such in the public schools. It is difficult to imagine a better coeditor for the updated edition of Ruse’s anthology But Is It Science? (published originally in 1988) than Robert Pennock.

The 1988 edition of But Is It Science? contained four sections, devoted respectively to

  1. the 19th-century background, emphasizing the contemporary dispute over the scientific status of Darwin’s theory of evolution;
  2. evolution today (circa 1988), including material on Karl Popper’s allegation, since retracted, that “Darwinism” — that is, evolution by natural selection — “is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program” (emphasis in original);
  3. the McLean case in which Ruse testified; and
  4. the philosophical aftermath of the McLean case, involving exchanges between Ruse and his fellow philosophers Larry Laudan and Philip L. Quinn, who accused him of oversimplifying and distorting the philosophy of science in his testimony.

In the 2009 edition, there are three sections. The first, corresponding to (1) and (2), presents the religious, scientific, and philosophical background; a useful addition is a selection from Charles Hodge’s 1874 What Is Darwinism? that reveals the fundamentalist roots of creationism. The second, corresponding to (3) and (4), presents the McLean case and its philosophical aftermath; a useful addition is Barry R. Gross’s 1983 defense of Ruse’s testimony. Although a few articles from the 1988 edition have not been retained in the 2009 edition, the only regrettable omission is Ruse’s prefatory essay “A Philosopher’s Day in Court,” a personal statement about his involvement with the McLean case.

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It is the third section of the 2009 edition of But Is It Science? — on intelligent design creationism and the Kitzmiller case — that warrants the update. Especially noteworthy are the selections written especially for the book, Nick Matzke’s “But Isn’t It Creationism?” and Pennock’s “Can’t Philosophers Tell the Difference between Science and Religion?” Matzke, who as a staff member at the National Center for Science Education (where I work) assisted the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller trial, examined the prehistory of the intelligent design movement in detail while preparing for the case. The assumption that intelligent design is a product of the 1990s is common, thanks in part to the writings of the godfather of intelligent design, Phillip Johnson, throughout the decade. (He is here represented by the 1993 article “What is Darwinism?” — which answers its eponymous question in much the same way as did Hodge’s book of the same title.) Matzke, however, convincingly argues that intelligent design was assembled in all but name “between 1982 and 1984: salvaged from the ruins of the creation scientists’ spectacular collapse in the McLean trial, and retooled in preparation” for the next case, Edwards v. Aguillard, which reached the Supreme Court in 1987. The history of the intelligent design movement is still not completely understood, since the main players have no incentive to be candid about the events, but no further work on it will be complete without reckoning with Matzke’s findings.

Having the monitory example of the philosophical controversy over Ruse’s testimony in McLean before him, Pennock doubtless realized that his testimony would be criticized as well. Here he articulates the “simple ballpark approach” he took in his testimony, arguing that, for methodological reasons inherent in the nature of empirical evidence, science is not capable of appealing to the supernatural in its explanations of phenomena in the natural world, and defending his approach against a number of his philosophical colleagues. He concludes, “[T]he rational conclusion here is that creationism does not even belong in the stadium, that it is playing a different game entirely — Sudoku, perhaps.” (Should that be Pseudoku?) Among the colleagues he responds to is Fuller, who defended his Kitzmiller testimony in his Science v. Religion? (2007; reviewed by Norman Levitt in Skeptic 14:1) as well as in “A Step toward the Legalization of Science Studies,” reprinted here. Fuller’s essay teems with errors that often suspiciously verge on the tendentious. For example, he describes the expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller as “seasoned veterans of related trials involving creationism,” for example, presumably so as to portray himself as a waiflike innocent in comparison. In fact, only one of the six, Kenneth R. Miller, had ever testified in such a trial before. It is perhaps a minor weakness of the book that Fuller is the only critic of Pennock’s testimony represented, but philosophers are bound to be discussing the case for years to come.

items of interest…

For more books and video resources on evolution and creationism:

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on these topics

But Is It Science? is evidently intended as a sourcebook for university classes in philosophy, the history of science, science and religion, and so forth, and as such it succeeds admirably. But it is, or ought to be, appealing to the general public at large. The creationism/evolution controversy is a perennial feature of life in the United States, with attempts to remove, balance, or compromise the teaching of evolution recurring from the Scopes era to the present day. Even if public interest in intelligent design dwindles after Kitzmiller, as public interest in creation science dwindled after McLean and Edwards, the profound yet misguided discomfort with evolution that actuates such assaults on evolution is bound to remain. Also bound to remain are philosophical controversies over creationism, which — as the Kitzmiller case illustrated so vividly — have the potential to affect the quality of science education across the country and indeed around the world. Pennock and Ruse conclude their preface by writing, “We hope that you enjoy this collection and learn from it.” I think that you will. And they add, “We hope sincerely that in twenty years it will not be necessary to bring out a third edition.” I do, too. But if so, it will be due, despite Mencken’s jab, in large part to the philosophers — Pennock, Ruse, and Forrest, to be sure, but also Philip Kitcher, Sahotra Sarkar, Elliott Sober, and a host of their colleagues — who have worked tirelessly to expose the philosophical flaws of creationism.

The latest additions to MichaelShermer.com and SkepticBlog.org

the latest additions to
MichaelShermer.com and SkepticBlog.org

The Natural and the Supernatural

Michael compares science and religion to the natural and the supernatural.
READ the blog post


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eSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics SocietyeSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009  |  ISSN 1556-5696 

Read this eSkeptic in full splendor at

In this week’s eSkeptic:


a Chapter from War: History, Causes, and Solutions

War: History, Causes, and Solutions (CD cover)

DOWNLOAD the sample MP3 (47MB)

War is a serious subject and serious consequences, and Dr. Michael Shermer treats it as such, bringing to bear on the topic all the tools of science and history to understand war’s history, causes, and solutions. In this free audio download of Lecture 1, Dr. Shermer introduces the course, defines what he means by war, what sorts of causes will be sought (proximate causes and ultimate causes), human nature and human culture and how they interact to cause conflict, and the ultimate consequences of war.
DOWNLOAD the sample MP3 (47MB)

Dave Cullen

Dave Cullen

Columbine: True Horror
and American Myth

On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on American society when they carried out their plan to kill as many of their high school classmates as they could. The very word “Columbine” has come to represent a specific brand of unthinkable horror: when children make a calculated decision to murder their teachers and peers.

In the chaos and aftermath of that April day, legends and misinformation quickly proliferated. A great deal of what was reported about Columbine was simply not true. Author Dave Cullen has spent the last ten years of his journalistic career studying the lives of the residents of Littleton Colorado as they were before, during, and after this shattering event. Cullen’s seminal book on the subject, Columbine, delves deep into the psyches of the killers, the victims, and their families to set the record straight not only about what really happened on that fateful day, but why.

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the Fall/Winter Season of Caltech Lectures

Mark your calendar! The Skeptics Society is pleased to announce its Fall/Winter season of the Skeptics Distinguished Lecture Series at Caltech. This continues the seventeen-year-long series, presenting over 200 lectures by some of the most distinguished experts in the world. Unless otherwise stated, all lectures take place in Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech. First up…

Beyond Cosmic Dice
Moral Life in a Random World

with Dr. Jeff Schweitzer

Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Morality is our biological destiny. We each have within us the awesome power to create our own meaning in life, our own sense of purpose, our own destiny. With a natural ethic we are able to move beyond the random hand of birth to pave our own road to a better life. With the ability to choose to be good comes the obligation to make that choice; choosing to be moral is what makes us special as individuals and as a species. We are special if we choose to be, if we ourselves decide to use our big brains to manage wisely our relationships with one another and with our environment.

Dr. Schweitzer spent much of his youth underwater pursuing his lifelong fascination with marine life. He obtained his doctorate from Scripps Institution of Oceanography through his neurobehavioral studies of sharks and rays. He has published in an eclectic range of fields, including neurobiology, marine science, international development, environmental protection and aviation, and he worked the White House as Assistant Director for International Science and Technology. Praise from Bill Maher: “This is the book that ties it all together — the problems that religion creates in solving our looming problems, and the unholy environmental mess we’re in. I’d say that someday we’re going to have to listen to this man, but the truth is, that day is NOW.”

followed by these lectures…

Alison Gopnik

The Philosophical Baby
What Children’s Minds Tell Us
About Truth, Love, and
the Meaning of Life

with Dr. Alison Gopnik

Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 2:00 pm
READ about this lecture

Stewart Brand

Whole Earth Discipline
An Ecopragmatist Manifesto

with Stewart Brand

Monday, October 26, 2009 at 7:00 pm
READ about this lecture

Carl Zimmer

The Tangled Bank
An Introduction to Evolution

with Carl Zimmer

Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 2:00 pm
READ about this lecture

Barbara Ehrenreich

Bright Sided
How the Relentless Promotion
of Positive Thinking has
Undermined America

with Barbara Ehrenreich

Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 2:00 pm
READ about this lecture

Donald Prothero

Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs
Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet

with Dr. Donald Prothero

Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 2:00 pm
READ about this lecture

The latest additions to MichaelShermer.com and SkepticBlog.org

the latest additions to MichaelShermer.com and SkepticBlog.org

How to Talk to a UFOlogist (if you must)

Michael reviews Confessions of An Alien Hunter by Seth Shostak.
READ the blog post


AAI/Dawkins Convention 2009

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