Monday, July 10, 2006

Pamela Winnick's Science Envy

Pamela Winnick is an attorney and former reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who has written several articles that lean against evolution and in favor of intelligent design. I recently forced myself to read her 2005 book, A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion. It wasn't a pleasant experience.

Winnick's book covers a variety of topics: abortion, population control, eugenics, medical experimentation, the Scopes trial, the theory of evolution, intelligent design, and fetal tissue research. Her thesis -- if this rambling, disjointed book can be said to have one -- is contained in the book's final paragraph:


"The Galileo prototype of the scientist martyred by religion is now purely a myth. Science long ago won its war against religion, not just traditional religion, but any faith in a power outside the human mind. Now it wants more."


Throughout the book, scientists are depicted as crazed, power-hungry, and immoral. Only religion, Winnick implies, can rein in these dangerous nuts who threaten society.

Winnick's claim that "science long ago won its war against religion" is far too glib. Ironically, 2005 also saw the publication of Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, a far-better-documented book that shows in depressing detail how American science has been subjugated to the political and especially religious goals of the Christian right.

Winnick's reporting is sloppy. Incidents are slanted to support her thesis, names are misspelled (Stanislaw Ulam's last name is comically morphed into "Ulsam"; Richard Lewontin's middle initial is given incorrectly), quotes are mined (sometimes incorrectly), and some "facts" are just plain made up (see below).

Here's an example of a mined quote. Winnick claims, "In a 1997 piece in the New York Times, Dawkins famously remarked that anyone who doesn't believe in evolution is "stupid, and ignorant and ... wicked" (emphasis added)." However, Dawkins' actual remark was "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." Winnick entirely changed the meaning of the quote by replacing Dawkins' "or"s with "and"s. (If you don't understand the difference, take a logic course.) Further, his remark didn't appear in 1997; it appeared in an April 9, 1989 book review by Dawkins.

On page 162, Winnick juxtaposes a quote by Dawkins about altruism with the following: "You have to be an intellectual to believe such nonsense," George Orwell once remarked. "No ordinary man could be such a fool." But Orwell was not writing about Dawkins or altruism, and Winnick provides no reason why Dawkins' ideas are "nonsense". This isn't reporting, it's pure cant.

(By the way, Winnick got the Orwell quote wrong, too. The real quotation comes from Orwell's Notes on Nationalism, and goes as follows: "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.")

As might be expected of someone with no scientific training, Winnick displays multiple misunderstandings of science. And despite the fact that Winnick claims to be a "practicing Jew and liberal Democrat", her book uses the same nasty and dishonest rhetorical tricks that are the staple of far-right Christian creationists.

First, let's look at some of Winnick's misunderstandings. On page 19, she writes that "A fertilized egg immediately undergoes cellular division and, unless destroyed, grows into a full-term infant." As another reviewer already noted, this glib sentence omits the important fact that at least 60% to 80% of fertilized eggs fail to implant.

On page 110, Winnick claims that although evolution cannot be observed, "evolution could be inferred from the rapid variations that occur within a given species. During his famed five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, Darwin observed these variations first hand. On a stop in the Galapagos Islands, he noticed the different beak sizes and shapes among the finches that had flown in from the mainland, each settling on a different island." Winnick fails to understand that the Galapagos finches are not merely variations "within" as species (here she merely echoes a typical creationist objection to evolution), but different species -- in fact, 13 different species in the Galapagos. And of course, evolution can be observed, as speciation has been observed in both the laboratory and the wild. How many times can these creationist falsehoods be repeated? Why does Winnick not subject these false claims to some critical scrutiny?

Later on the same page, Winnick writes (in a footnote) that "The word "theory" when used in science is different from its ordinary use. A scientific theory is considered virtually the same as fact." While the first sentence is correct, one can only stare open-mouthed at the ignorance of the second. A theory is not the same as a fact; otherwise how could one speak of competing scientific theories? Rather, a theory in the scientific sense is a coherent system of explanation for natural phenomena, testable by experiments, that makes predictions and explains observations. Some theories are better supported than others; only the really well-supported theories, such as gravity and evolution, can be considered as similar to facts, keeping in mind that in science every explanation is provisional.

Winnick also claims that "Darwin's theory was inspired not by science, but by the politics of his time." Although it is true that Darwin hit on natural selection by an analogy with Malthus, it is misrepresentation to suggest that his theory was inspired by politics alone. Has Winnick never read the Origin of Species? If so, she would have known that Darwin patiently built his scientific case for evolution on a host of supporting facts, not politics. And her history is wrong, too, since Darwin began his transmutation notebook (the "B" notebook) in 1837, but didn't make the connection with Malthus' essay until 1838.

The really annoying part of the book, though, is Winnick's mean-spirited rhetorical tricks. Consider her treatment of population growth. Although it is an undeniable fact that exponential growth of the human population on Earth cannot be sustained forever, Winnick dismisses these concerns as "racist", and repeatedly compares population-control advocates to Nazis. Those who warn about the consequences of unrestricted growth are described as "population zealots". Paul Ehrlich is described as a hypocritical "fraud" who preached population control despite the fact that "he knew he was wrong".

What is Winnick's evidence that Ehrlich was a "fraud"? According to her, population growth is not a concern because in the US, live births per thousand decreased from 123 in 1957 to 85.7 in 1968. That's like saying the national debt is not a problem if the current budget deficit is decreasing. And of course, it ignores the fact that while fertility rates have leveled off in the US, they are still very high in other parts of the world. 1% population growth per year is still exponential growth, and will ultimately cause the same kinds of problems as 5% growth -- it will just take longer.

But then, Winnick is no stranger to misrepresentations. In 2001, she claimed
"I am, however, writing a book about the subject showing how the media and scientific elite has stifled meaningful debate on the subject. In doing so, I am indeed supported ($25,000) by the Phillips Foundation, an organization which takes absolutely no position on the subject of evolution, but which seeks to promote fair and balanced reporting in all subject areas."

However, Wesley Elsberry took a look at the Phillips Foundation web page and found that Winnick's fellowship was then described as follows:

Project: "Examination of How Media and Established Scientists Treat the Subject of Evolution," analyzing why there seems to be little tolerance for teaching creationism in America.

(Since then, the Phillips Foundation has altered its web page and the description of Winnick's project.)

Another misrepresentation occurs on page 91, where Winnick attempts to paint yet another scholar with the Nazi brush: "In German and Austria, with their collective guilt about the Holocaust, Peter Singer is considered so repulsive that his writings are banned."

This claim immediately set off alarm bells in my head, and no citation is provided, so I wrote to Peter Singer to ask him if there any truth to Winnick's claim. Here is Singer's reply:

"None at all. My writings are freely available, and several of my books are in German translation. Practical Ethics, for example, has been available in the popular yellow series published by Reclam since the 1980s."

So much for Winnick's reliability.

Sometimes, in her quest to indict scientists and exonerate theists, Winnick resorts to bizarre non sequiturs. Here is Winnick on intelligent design (page 188): And though the [intelligent design] movement was often accused of being "Christian,", in fact only a few of them were Protestant evangelicals. A few were Catholic." Gee, the last time I looked, Catholics were Christians, and Christians weren't composed solely of Protestant evangelicals.

Another creationist trick that Winnick uses is to take people who have know little about evolution, and elevate them to the position of authorities. Phillip Johnson, a law professor with no biological training, is described as "brilliant". Ironically, on page 195, Winnick asks "how likely was it that Alec Baldwin or Kim Basinger or any of the many other glitzy Hollywood stars had ever seriously studied biology or understood Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection or ever read anything on the subject other than PFAW press releases?" Offhand, I'd say it's about the same likelihood that Phillip Johnson or William Dembski or David Berlinski has seriously studied biology, but Winnick doesn't hesitate to tout them as experts.

No creationist saw is too unreliable for Winnick to repeat. Here are a few examples:

-- the Chinese paleontologist anecdote is repeated uncritically on page 198
-- the 1966 Wistar Institute Symposium is brought up on page 122
-- Fred Hoyle's "tornado in a junkyward" is mentioned on page 172

Liberal Democrat or not, this book cements Pamela Winnick's reputation as a flack for the Christian right. It is not a fair, reliable, or objective look at the battles between science and religion. It appears to me that Winnick has a bad case of science envy.

51 comments:

Jonathan Badger said...

Gee, the last time I looked, Catholics were Christians, and Christians weren't composed solely of Protestant evangelicals.

Although Winnick certainly isn't above lying to support her points (as you demonstrate above), this particular statement that you refer to isn't as nonsensical/dishonest as it may appear, at least not in the US dialect of English.

Just like Canadians are not normally referred to as "Americans" even though the description would technically be true, Roman Catholic, Russian/Greek Orthodox, and even mainstream Protestant churches such as Methodist and Episcopalian are rarely labeled "Christian" in the US. If a church in the US advertises "Christian services" it is almost certainly a fundy evangelical church. So it is understandable that someone could interepret a statement like "supporters of ID are Christians" to mean "supporters of ID are fundy evangelicals", whether or not that was the originally meaning intended by the author.

Taner Edis said...

I scanned through the book (it didn't seem to be worth more than about 45 minutes), and I agree with your observations: a shoddy piece of work that isn't really even all that interesting.

Still, I wonder if her sort of anti-science feeling is common, and if it has much political traction. It's a depressing thought, but the quality of argument does not seem to count for too much in the public sphere these days. Market share is all that matters, it seems...

Gerard Harbison said...

She's one of those Liberal Democrats who writes for the Weekly Standard and National Review. . Google her name along with those publications.

You know the type. Liberal Democrats like Tom Bethell, Ann Coulter, David Klinghoffer...

Anonymous said...

Anti-science sentiment I believe is a symptom of a long US tradition of anti-intellectualism that predates even the revolution. It's remarkable that our constitution was written in a brief interlude when it was hip to be square, when monster intellects like Jefferson could command widespread respect. Had it been written 20 years before or 20 years after, the constitution might have been very, very different.

tiredofthesos said...

"Creationist" always means "fool" or "potential maniac," UNLESS the person involved actually profits from dispersing the infection, in which case (like this one) they are ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS lying scoundels.

Les Lane said...

An easy way to become a moron in the eyes of the scientific community is to write a book about science without a solid educational background in science, without becoming engrossed in professional science literature and without consulting quality scientists.

Torbjörn Larsson said...

"the really well-supported theories, such as gravity and evolution, can be considered as similar to facts"

Nitpick: gravity is the observed phenomena, gravitation the theory. Maybe we should call common descent with modification "evoluty"? :-)

Regarding christians, it is awkvard but not surprising with another definition. I'm reminded of "liberals". But here the inclusive definition may be more pallatable. Wikipedia supports it.

But I'm curious, how does US christians refer to the whole group?

Gary S. Hurd said...

Very good job. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Here's my take on the christians versus catholics thing: I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church. We were taught there that Catholics are not Christians because Catholics think you have to go "through" the church to get to heaven, whereas Christ said "No man cometh to the father but by me." Therefore, the evil Catholics who worship Mary and the Pope were all going to hell.

Not surprisingly, once I turned my critical thinking skills (absorbed from parents who were scornful of anyone illogical, provided that person was not selling RELIGION) to religion, I walked away from all religion. Unlike a lot of people both historically (see the great book "God's Funeral") and currently, I never felt any sense of loss, only a sense of relief.

Steven Carr said...

In the original article, Dawkins explicitly excepted Darwinian mechanisms as one of the things that to doubt showed ignorance or stupidity.

truth machine said...

Just like Canadians are not normally referred to as "Americans" even though the description would technically be true, Roman Catholic, Russian/Greek Orthodox, and even mainstream Protestant churches such as Methodist and Episcopalian are rarely labeled "Christian" in the US.

That's an absurd and blatantly false claim.

truth machine said...

"Science long ago won its war against religion, not just traditional religion, but any faith in a power outside the human mind."

What the heck does that mean? The only power that the human mind has is what it obtains as the control and command center of the human body. Other purported "powers" such as telekinesis and clairvoyance aren't supported by the findings of science. I saw photos today of galaxies colliding, and of galaxies collapsing into the black holes at their core. Science does not assert that that occurs due to the power of the human mind. Of course, science does not assert the power of black holes as a matter of faith, but rather by inference from a large amount of evidence. For many, science has indeed "won the war" against "faith", due to its effectiveness as a method of investigation, discovery, and accurate prediction which has made possible some amazing technology. But for billions of others faith still holds sway.

This is a problem that I have with all theistic religion -- even the most sophisticated religious people (which certainly does not include Ms. Winnick) employ conceptual gibberish. The very word "god" is nonsensical; there is no statement that employs it that wouldn't be just as descriptive without it. Consider "God willed the universe into being" ... how does that differ from "the universe came into being"? Apparently religious folks consider God to be giant (bearded) man with a brain with incredible telekinetic powers -- but deny it when challenged. Folks like Ken Miller deny of God every characteristic that would actually make a difference in a statement like "God willed the universe into being", or "God set the universe in motion", or "evolution is God's way of working his will". All of these are conceptual gibberish, employing a category mistake by applying causal concepts to an "entity" that, by its lack of a physical nature, cannot cause anything. If the notion of a universe springing into being is offensive to one's intuition, adding goddidit does nothing to make it more palatable ... if one is rational and doesn't still cling to the remnants of fairy tales originated by primitive nomads and learned in childhood.

truth machine said...

BTW, although the absurdity of Roman Catholic, Russian/Greek Orthodox, and even mainstream Protestant churches such as Methodist and Episcopalian are rarely labeled "Christian" in the US is nearly as obviously false as was the claim that the naked emperor was clothed, for the sake of the scientific spirit I offer http://dir.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Religion_and_Spirituality/Faiths_and_Practices/Christianity/
where one can find numerous organizations that are not "fundy evangelical" but have "Christian" in their name or otherwise identify themselves as "Christian", such as Christian Children's Fund and The Christian Century magazine.

Mike the Mad Biologist said...

Thank you for wading through this crap.

Jonathan Badger said...

Torbjörn: But I'm curious, how does US christians refer to the whole group?

In general they don't. Traditionally, there was no need. Until recent decades, outside places like New York City (where there's been a large Jewish community for over a hundred years), the number of practising religious people who weren't "Christian" (in the big sense) in the US was quite small. People would simply define themselves as Lutheran or Roman Catholic or whatever. Nowadays, of course, practising Muslim and Hindu immigrants are becomming more common.

truth machine: That's an absurd and blatantly false claim.

Take a look at an US community. You'll find churches named like "5th Street Christian Church". While technically, a Roman Catholic or Episcopalian church on 5th street could be called that, they aren't. "Christian" is a code word for "evangelical" in the US. They've appropriated the term. As I was raised Episcopalian, I'd be offended by the theft of the word "Christian" if I hadn't already washed my hands of the whole religion business.

theo said...

There's something fittingly wicked about her mendacious quote-mining. As if she's trying her hardest to prove Dawkins' point.

And, regarding the Christians/Catholics point -- it really gets my goat that Jonathan Badger pretends to appreciate subtleties of "the US dialect of English," when he clearly hasn't a clue. All the churches he mentions consider themselves Christian, and furthermore are considered Christian by any objective person. (A minority of Southern Baptists, and a few other fundamentalist churches, view Catholics as non-Christian.) How they advertise their services is totally beside the point.

I suspect that Winnick, being Jewish, is confused about American Christianity -- alternatively, she's been talking to fundies exclusively.

Philip Brooks said...

A data point: I've lived in rural Georgia all my life, and I don't believe I've ever heard anyone say that Catholics aren't Christians except in rhetorical screeds along the lines of claiming only members of a particular denomination are "true Christians."

gravitybear said...

Truth Machine: That's an absurd and blatantly false claim.

I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought so. I don't know what "US" badger lives in, but it's not the same one I live in.

Speedwell said...

I was a Christian until the age of 35, and becuase my family moved around a lot I went to many different churches--Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Southern Baptist, Episcopalian, Alliance, Church of Christ, and Church of God.

And I tell you, if you went into any of them and attempted to argue that they were not Christians... well, my friend, I suspect you'd witness some amazingly un-Christian reactions. ;)

Of course they're all Christian, as are the Catholics. The word "Christian" is adequately defined for all practical purposes as "someone who identifies themselves as a follower of Christ." All of the churches under discussion fit that definition, as well as many unchurched individuals, and even many members of free-wheeling churches like the Unitarian Universalists.

David J. Strumfels said...

Devastating and well-deserved review. But I have to disagree with some statements about Ehrlich and population growth. World population growth is not exponential; exponential growth requires a constant (or increasing) percentage -- that it can be expressed as a percentage at all is a trivial fact, true by definition. Expressed as a percentage, population growth has been declining for several decades, and is predicted to reach 0% mid-late century.

This basic math error has led to a lot of seriously absurd predictions about population, of which Ehrlich's are certainly the best known. To call Ehrlich a fraud is probably going to far, but he deserves, and receives, serious criticisms.

Seth Gordon said...

(Came here via Pharyngula. Hello!)

I think that some evangelical Protestants, particularly when they are talking among themselves, to use the word "Christian" to exclude Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Episcopalians. I wouldn't call it the standard usage across "the US dialect of English", but when Winnick uses the word in that way, it says something about the circles this "practicing Jew and liberal Democrat" travels in.

Jeffrey said...

David Strumfels:

World population grew at a 1.47% annual growth rate in 1950. By 1962, that figure was 2.19%. In 2006, it was 1.14%. Clearly the growth rate is not constant, but I would be hard pressed to say what it is. See http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/worldpop.html for some figures.

We have not achieved zero population growth, nor are we likely to achieve it for the forseeable future. Forecasts are necessarily unreliable. Any constant growth rate above 0% will result in exponential increase.

People love to claim that Ehrlich was wrong, but I'd guess that his advocacy for ZPG was at least partly responsible for the decline in the growth rate.

Larry Lennhoff said...

And though the [intelligent design] movement was often accused of being "Christian,", in fact only a few of them were Protestant evangelicals. A few were Catholic."
Thanks to the wonders of Amazon, the full quote may be found in context here.

It seems to me reading it she is claiming that the primary characteristic of believers in ID is not their Christianity, but rather some other feature. In particular, she asserts that all ID followers were 'highly educated'. In short, I don't think she was excluding all but Protestant Evangelicals in her definition of Christianity.

Further, it seems both she and you believe that in this context the term 'Christian' is meant as an insult. She unpacks the term Christian as used by her foes to mean 'ignorant fundamentalist'. She then attempts to refute both parts of that characterisation. She cites Catholics and a secular Jew as proof they are not fundamentalist, and their degree of education as proof they are not ignorant.

Anonymous said...

I was raised a Roman Catholic and I would agree that in the U.S., "Christian" is code for evangelical protestant. My friends who went to "Christian" schools went to schools that were protestant and generally hostile to Catholicism. I did not consider myself a "Christian" as that term is often used; that is, if someone asked, "Are you a Christian?" I would answer that I was a Catholic.

Of course, Catholics consider themselves Christians within the confines of Church services, but I doubt you would hear a Roman Catholic proclaiming on the street that he/she is a "Christian." Normally, they'd just say, "I'm a Catholic."

Anonymous said...

I wonder, what is the connection with all this rabid anti-science and the preponderance of corporate control over scientific ventures. Anyone? Anyone?

Lettuce said...

Every "Christian" I know that defines Christianity to excluse Catholics (and I know a few of them) is aware that they are consciously excluding a group that considers itself Christian from the Christian family.

I know of nobody who is confused that, in general, everyone knows Catholics are Christian and that those evangelicals (mostly) who make a point of excluding them have a tic.

To say that Catholics and Orthodox churches, along with Methodists and Episcopalians are generally not seen as Christian is mond-boggling to me, indeed Methodist and Episcopalians are almost always referred to (at least here in the upper-MIdwest) as "Mainstream Protestant denominations".

Clearly Christian.

Anonymous said...

> A theory is not the same as a fact; otherwise how could one speak of competing scientific theories?

Um ... I think we all better start getting our ducks-in-a-row on the definitions of hypothesis/theory/fact.

We're too inclined to shifting the goalposts here:

- sometimes (as above) we argue that a theory is just an idea,

- other times we say that "just an idea" is what we call hypothesis, and that "theory" is pretty near solid (contingent, but not a fact)

It tends to confuse people, and the listener thinks you're being shifty if you shift your definitions.

How about this:

- Fact: something observable in the real world,

- Hypothesis: wild idea that may provide an explanation for a set of facts in the real world

- Theory: an hypothesis that is well supported by facts (ie. previously wild idea that now looks like a pretty solidy, but contingent, fit to the facts).

Which leaves:

- Truth: only God knows

Lynn said...

"Just like Canadians are not normally referred to as "Americans" even though the description would technically be true, Roman Catholic, Russian/Greek Orthodox, and even mainstream Protestant churches such as Methodist and Episcopalian are rarely labeled "Christian" in the US."

This is nonsense. Speaking as a native-born US citizen and one who grew up in the Methodist church (though has become wiser with age), there is never any question about whether any of the various Protestant denominations are referred to as "Christian." And except for fringies, never any question about Catholics being Christians either.

Lynn said...

Anonymous said:
"How about this:

- Fact: something observable in the real world,

- Hypothesis: wild idea that may provide an explanation for a set of facts in the real world

- Theory: an hypothesis that is well supported by facts (ie. previously wild idea that now looks like a pretty solidy, but contingent, fit to the facts)."

Um... nope. Don't agree with any of these.

A "fact" is nothing more than a single, repeatable observation. In themselves, facts are individually essentially trivial. Their only significance is in the ways they fit into our larger concepts about how things work.

A hypothesis is *not* a "wild idea." At least, it shouldn't be. "Wild ideas" are simply pointless speculation. Hypotheses are testable proposals, based on understanding and previous knowledge. The good old hoary "educated guess" isn't too bad a euphemism.

A theory is a posit--a highly tested explanation for a large body of factual information, generally encompassing *many* tested hypotheses and explaining a lot of information. A posit is a concept about which it is impossible to be completely certain, but for which we have so much evidence it's safe to treat it as truth (and pretty stupid to pretend it *isn't* at least pretty close to truth).

BTW, scientific "laws" are also posits. Despite what so many of my students are determined to believe, they are not "proven" to be "true." Like theories, they are ultimately tentative. The difference between a law and a theory is that laws merely describe the ways that matter and energy are observed to behave (which is why so many can be expressed best mathematically). Theories are *explanations*, which is why they are typically much more complex than laws and take a lot more work to refine.

Jeremiah Daniels said...

According to www.dictionary.com and The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language the word Christian is:

adj.
1. Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
2. Relating to or derived from Jesus or Jesus's teachings.
3.Manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus; Christlike.
4.Relating to or characteristic of Christianity or its adherents.
Showing a loving concern for others; humane.

n.
1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

But according to the Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary

Christian

the name given by the Greeks or Romans, probably in reproach, to the followers
of Jesus. It was first used at Antioch. The names by which the disciples were
known among themselves were "brethren," "the faithful," "elect," "saints,"
"believers." But as distinguishing them from the multitude without, the name
"Christian" came into use, and was universally accepted. This name occurs but
three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16).

So IMHO, tomayeto...tomauto, doesn't matter.

Winnick should have used a term that exacts which religious sect she was thinking of.

The Neurophile said...

On the Christian/non-Christian question: perhaps there's a regional distinction of some sort here?

I was raised in Minnesota in the Lutheran Chuch Missouri Synod. On the one hand, I went through two years of confirmation learning why all other religions and other branches of the Christian church were not "True Christians", and would thus be going to hell. On the other hand, I've never really encountered the term "Christian" used in a sense exclusive of any particular brand of Christianity: Catholics have always been lumped in with Lutherans and Baptists etc. etc...

eyelessgame said...

Came over from pharyngula.

Torbjörn: But I'm curious, how does US christians refer to the whole group?

"Religious". If you're religious in the US, it's assumed you belong to a christian religion -- whereas if you're "Christian" it means you're an evangelical protestant.

At least in the minds of evangelical protestants.

The movement towards equating "Christian" with "evangelical Protestant" is deliberate and has been highly successful. Evangelicals, including those who were raised in a different Christian sect, almost always refer to their conversion to evangelism as "becoming a Christian". It's conscious and deliberate: they want the term to themselves.

kai said...

You know, I interpreted the statement
And though the [intelligent design] movement was often accused of being "Christian,", in fact only a few of them were Protestant evangelicals. A few were Catholic.
to mean simply:
"While the members of the ID movement are taken to be Christians, it in fact contains only a few Protestants plus a few Catholics and the rest/majority being non-Christian."

Now, the factual truth of this may be arguable, but I think the logic of the statement allows such an interpretation, yes?

Anonymous said...

We have not achieved zero population growth, nor are we likely to achieve it for the forseeable future.

The UN regularly produces estimates of population growth. The current estimate (as of 2004) has a band of high probability events bounded between negative population growth by 2040, to 10.6B people by 2050, with a medium projection of nearly zero population growth by 2050. See http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WPP2004/2004EnglishES.pdf

Forecasts are necessarily unreliable.

It should be noted that UN's projections have been consistently pessimistic, with periodic downward revisions on the expected size of the world population by 2050.

For example, the 2004 medium estimate of growth includes significant upticks in the fertility rates of the developed world. Given the rapid drop on the fertility rate there, even assuming no change (let alone an uptick) for the medium projection seems unduly pessimistic.

The study also assumes that no country whatsoever will move below a fertility rate of 1.85 from now until 2050, not even those ones with currently rapidly falling birth rates and close to reaching that threshold. The study assumes these dropping rate countries to magically stop at 1.85.

My guess is that in a few years, the UN will yet again issue a revision downwards in their projections.

Torbjörn Larsson said...

Thanks all fo clearing up my confusion about US use of "christian"! Groups highjacking termsdo do tend to confuse things.

Anonymous said...

Clearly she has no understanding of evolution as demonstrated by this:

"evolution could be inferred from the rapid variations that occur within a given species. During his famed five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, Darwin observed these variations first hand. On a stop in the Galapagos Islands, he noticed the different beak sizes and shapes among the finches that had flown in from the mainland, each settling on a different island."

Each settling on a different island? where is the evolution in that? That just means birds with fixed differences dispersed. And we know that isn't true. Darwin's finches are a monophyletic group, indicating the islands were colonized once, and then the birds diversified, which is why they are so interesting. And beak morphologies can change rapidly both within and between species. But why am I putting this here? She probably isn't going to read this is she?

truth machine said...

"Christian" is a code word for "evangelical" in the US.

No, it isn't. Repeating this silly claim and selecting the evidence doesn't make it any more true. That fundies wish to view only themselves as "Christians" doesn't mean that only they are. Millions of non-evangelical Christians identify themselves, and are identified by the broader society, as Christians.

truth machine said...

"Religious". If you're religious in the US, it's assumed you belong to a christian religion -- whereas if you're "Christian" it means you're an evangelical protestant.

At least in the minds of evangelical protestants.


But not in the minds of anyone else, which is why this is so absurd. Jonathan Badger in essence claimed that the meaning of "Christian" in U.S. English is determined by the way evangelical protestants use it for highly ideological purposes. It's like saying that John Kerry is a member of the "Democrat Party" because that's what rightwingnuts call it (because they want to avoid the implication that Democrats are actually "democratic").

truth machine said...

The movement towards equating "Christian" with "evangelical Protestant" is deliberate and has been highly successful. Evangelicals, including those who were raised in a different Christian sect, almost always refer to their conversion to evangelism as "becoming a Christian". It's conscious and deliberate: they want the term to themselves.

And Jonathan Badger has declared, rather prematurely, that it's theirs.

I go back to my original observation, that Badger's claim that Roman Catholic, Russian/Greek Orthodox, and even mainstream Protestant churches such as Methodist and Episcopalian are rarely labeled "Christian" in the US isn't true; they are in fact frequently labeled "Christian". Again, this is as clear as the fact that the emperor wasn't clothed, but I offer as example the 1,070,000 google hits for "Christian denominations", headed up by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations

which (of course, duh, sheesh) includes the denominations Badger mentioned.

biosparite said...

Pardon me if I repeat someone else's comment (didn't have time to read all of the string), but the usage distinguishing Christians from Catholics appears to be a staple of Protestant Evangelicals. And I suppose for good measure since I recall that buried within the Baltimore Cathecism around Q&A 259 or later is a statement that only Catholics go to Heaven. A pox on both their houses.

Mr. Upright said...

jonathan badger:

If a church in the US advertises "Christian services" it is almost certainly a fundy evangelical church.

This is certainly not universal, nor does it appear from my experience to be particularly common. More common code words for fundamentalist services include "Christ-centered" and "Bible-based".

Take a look at an US community. You'll find churches named like "5th Street Christian Church". While technically, a Roman Catholic or Episcopalian church on 5th street could be called that, they aren't. "Christian" is a code word for "evangelical" in the US.

Actually, here you are wrong and truth machine is right to point out that `...one can find numerous organizations that are not "fundy evangelical" but have "Christian" in their name....'.

In every community I have lived in, most of the churches with names like "First Christian Church" and "5th Street Christian Church" are acutally United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal protestant denominations. (I don't know why they don't put UCC in their name more often.)

Probably the next most common are non-denominational churches who, because they lack affiliation with a specific denomination, adopt the generic term. It is nearly impossible determine the orientation of these churches from the name alone.

This is not to say that many fundamentalists don't reserve the term "Christian" exclusively for themselves, usually meaning "born again". However, it is a bad idea to determine the particular flavor of Christianity advertised by a church or organization with "Christian" in its name.

Anonymous said...

Back in 1982, I covered a talk by Stanislaw Ulam. I was able to talk to him afterwards, and the discussion turned at one point to "scientific creationism". Ulam didn't think SciCre had anything to do with science.

Now, a lot of people might get the impression that Ulam was in the SciCre pocket given his participation in the Wistar conference on "Mathematical challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis" back in the mid-1960s. Certainly by 1982, he was seeing SciCre and similar fringe movements as a threat to science education.

Anonymous said...

A fertilized egg which does not attach itself to the wall of the uterus is destroyed naturally. When Ms. Winnick wrote that if it is not destroyed it will develop into a fetus, she was right. It has to attach itself to the uterus to keep from being destroyed, and then must meet other criteria to keep from being destroyed, but having done that, it develops into a fetus. This is scientifically proven.

Secondly, Ms. Winnick never said that a theory is a fact, so I have no disagreement with her that a theory and a fact are two different things.

a_physicist said...

Bravo--a well considered, well documented, and much needed deconstruction of a hymn to the pseudoscience of ID. Religious fundamentalists (who tend also to be politically right) have no qualms about using the words of science without the rigor to achieve theocratic goals.

But I submit that evangelism is not limited to the right. The left side of the political spectrum, if you subscribe to the one-dimensional model of political views, also uses the gravitas of science, however poorly interpreted and perturbed, as a brickbat to further their own agendas. Take just for one example the so-called "global warming" crusade: it has its high prophets of gloom and doom who demand atonement and sacrifices of the faithful for absolution, sacrifices the high-priests don't care to make themselves. These self-appointed messiahs will use pseudoscientific ecumenical FUD to gain political power as surely as any right-wing religious fundamentalist would.

Change is the natural state of things; stars change, environments change, species adapt and evolve or die out. Change implies uncertainty, uncertainty leads to fear, and fear becomes a tool, the ring in the nose by which zealots, left or right, can and will use to control wealth and populations.

If one is truly concerned about global warming there are straightforward and economical ways to mitigate its effects--see Dr. Gregory Benford's solution, for one. But the problem with solutions such as his is that there is no guilt involved, and the political finger-pointers will be out of a job.

Shallit has done a fine job with his critical review of Winnick's sorry attempt to demonize science. Again I would emphasize to all rational readers that the misuse of science is not the realm of only the religious right.

John StOnge said...

Don't know if you're still out there and don't know if you'll ever read this. But with respect to this statement:

"Some theories are better supported than others; only the really well-supported theories, such as gravity and evolution, can be considered as similar to facts, keeping in mind that in science every explanation is provisional."

That reminds me of Stephen J. Gould's statement about the possibility that apples could start rising tomorrow. He was comparing the theory of evolution to gravitational theory as though the two are comparable.

In my opinion, they are not. Gravitational theory is in a different realm because it has been experimentally validated. Controlled experiments can and have been performed to support it. Some experiments that are also practical efforts, such as landing robots on Mars, illulstrate the precision with which beliefs have been confirmed.

Evolution theory is based almost, if not entirely, on observational data.

I have a degree in biology, was a professional biologist for five years. I'm not a pure biologist now, but I've been working in an environmental science/public health realm that involves biology for the past 18 years. I personally view evolution theory as the most plausible explanation for what we see.

But I do not agree with the dogmatic statements about the certainty of it that I've seen in the past by people like Stephen J. Gould. It is NOT in the same realm of certainty as something like gravitational theory. I don't think it's even close.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

John:

Evolution has been experimentally validated, too, so in that sense the distinction you are drawing between it and gravitation is nonexistent.

I don't know what you mean when you say that evolution is based on "observational data". What kind of data is not "observational"?

You offer no support for the claim that Gould was "dogmatic".

Anonymous said...

Belief in the divinity of Christ makes you Christian, period. The fact that fundie madrassas teach children to hate other denominations doesn't alter this fact. Nor have I ever personally heard of everyday people (i.e. not fringe nutbags) avoiding the usage of the word 'Christian' to refer to Catholics. This usage is certainly NOT supported by 'the US dialect of English', whatever that might be. It's as if someone thinks the word 'dialect' means 'lots of arbitrary redefinitions'. Whether one denomination or another tends to substitute the name of their denomination in place of 'Christian' when describing their beliefs to the lay public is super-irrelevant. We are arguing meaning, not usage. We're arguing over who IS Christian, not who routinely and explicitly self-identifies as Christian to the exclusion of more specific descriptors.

Also, a lot of commenters above need to go take a math class and learn to differentiate between exponential growth, quadratic growth, and logarithmic growth. Ehrlich might want to do that, too. And yes, he is a fraud when it comes to this subject; by trade he is an entomologist. He already predicted a Malthusian catastrophe decades ago, and it didn't happen. He's a retarded doomsayer.

John StOnge said...

Jeffery,

When I refer to "evolution theory," I'm talking about the entire body of theory reflecting the idea that all diversity of life on earth is due to evolutionary processes. It includes the idea, for example, that the ancestry of Blue Whales includes single celled organisms.

To my knowledge, experiments on evolution have showed that populations can evolve to some extent. For example I recently saw the paper abstracted at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12955142 referenced as experimental support for the idea that a population of single celled organisms can give rise to multi cellular descendants. But all the authors contend is that the results show "that transitions to higher orders of complexity are readily achievable."

Unfortunately I can't find a link that will allow access to the entire article for free but I have the entire article on my hard drive. But the experiment started with two genotypes of Pseudomonas bacteria and ended with the two genotypes of Pseudomonas bacteria. The authors were careful to note that what they generated through their experiment as "...a far cry from multicellularity."

In my opinion, the overwhelming preponderance of support for the body of evolution theory is provided by observational study. Scientists look at things as they are and note that it's consistent with theory. Or if it's not entirely consistent with the theory they may adjust the theory. What's been validated through experimentation in that realm of theory, I think, barely scratches the surface.

When I refer to "observational" vs. "experimental" I'm referring to the difference between making observations over which the investigator had no control to making observations that resulted from controlled experimentation. I am one who subscribes to the view that the highest level of certainty is achieved through controlled experimentation.

Gravitational theory, I think, is validated by experimentation to a far greater extent because it's far easier to do experiments validating entire scenarios. And even when the support is observational, it involves circumstances under which very precise predictions of exactly what's going to happen can be made then those predictions are observed to be correct to within very narrow limits. Predicting the orbits of planets based, in part, on gravitational theory is an example.

On Stephen J. Gould: I said he made a dogmatic statement. A Websters definition of "dogmatic" is "characterized by or given to the expression of opinions very strongly or positively as if they were facts." I think his whole "Evolution is a fact" approach was dogmatic. I believe he was talking about the overall theory including things such as the idea that Blue Whales had single celled ancestors. Also, I think it's reasonable to say that instead of the distinction between "fact" and "not fact" I'm looking at the distinction between "known to be a fact" and "not known to be a fact."

There is always an underlying reality. I think that, when people talk about "fact," they're really talking about "known to be fact." For instance, if I say, "there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe" I am expressing an opinion. Most people would not call that a statement of fact. But it may be a fact. It's just not known to be.

And I don't consider the idea that, say, Blue Whales had single celled ancestors as known to be fact in the same sense that saying an apple that breaks from an apple tree on planet earth will fall to the ground is. I'd say there's a lot more support for that idea that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. But it's still not known to be a fact.

molly said...

Is it possible that you bit of a problem . I've read the book. Barely aboout evolution.

Also, the info you submitted about author to Souce Watch watch is defamatory.

My firm is gathering info about others you've defamed.


Molly Kelly,esq
Attorney

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Molly:

I think you are confused. I have submitted nothing to "Sourcewatch".

KeithB said...

Ah, but did you submit anything to "Souce Watch"?

At the risk of you getting sued for my comment, Jeffery, I would guess that Ms. Molly got her law degree at Liberty U.