Friday, September 30, 2011


Read in this morning's paper that Judy Collins is 72, and thought that this song would be appropriate:

Across the morning sky,
All the bird are leaving,
Ah, how can they know it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire,
We'll still be dreaming.
I do not count the time

Who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

Sad deserted shore,
Your fickle friends are leaving,
Ah, but then you know it's time for them to go,
But I will still be here,
I have no thought of leaving.
I do not count the time

Who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

And I'm not alone,
While my love is near me,
And I know, it will be so, till it's time to go,
So come the storms of winter ,
and then the birds in spring again.
I do not fear the time

Who knows how my love grows?
Who knows where the time goes?

Here's the original by Sandy Denny and the Fairport Convention:

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Wayfaring Stranger                        Performance by Emmylou Harris

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While raveling through, this world of woe
Yet there's no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright world, to which I go
I'm going there to see my father
I'm going there no more to roam
I'm only going over Jordan
I'm only going over home

I know dark clouds will hang around me
I know my way is rough and steep
Yet beautiful fields lie just before me
Where God's redeemed, their vigils keep
I'm going there to see my mother
She said she'd meet me when I come
I'm only going over Jordan
I'm only going over home

Some of you codgers may remember this version by Tennessee Ernie Ford; note changes in lyrics:


Friday, September 16, 2011


Nine Amish were sentenced to jail in Kentucky for breaking a state law that requires them to put orange signs on their horse-drawn buggies.

The triangular signs are required as a safety warning to indiciate slow-moving vehicles. But the men refused to comply with the law because their religious beliefs forbid them from wearing bright colors, The Courier-Journal reported.

The men, from a strict Amish sect called Old Order Swartzentruber, used reflective tape as a substitute, because the triangle is a symbol restricted for the Holy Trinity, CNN said. [nice video]

Eight of the men began serving sentences in Mayfield ranging from three to 10 days after refusing on Monday to pay a fine for the misdemeanors. The ninth man's fine was paid by a self-described "concerned citizen" so the protesting Amish man could be with a sick child, TV station WPSD said.

As a courtesy, they were provided with dark uniforms instead of the usual bright orange garb worn by inmates.

The local chapter of the American Civil LIberties Union has taken up their cause by representing them since 2008, when they were first convicted, according to the station. They've appealed the conviction to the Kentucky Supreme Court, but the state's high court hasn't decided if it will hear the case, The Courier-Journal said.

h/t to Ross Bender 

Click here  for the story with the mug shots.

ht/ to Scott Bolan

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Dear Friends, Relatives, Colleagues, and Other Denizens of the Blogosphere:

I would like to request your participation in a data-gathering project about Christian perspectives on origins.  First, in your response, self-identify with one of these three options:

A.  I believe in a literal interpretation of the creation stories in Genesis.  Thus, my understanding is that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that all of the plant and animal species that we observe today were created fully formed, and this includes humans. 

B.  I accept what science has revealed regarding the age of the universe and of the earth, and that creation as we observe today took place over millions of years, and that all of the natural world including evolution is controlled by God.

C.  I do not consider my understanding of origins as being either A or B.


If you have classified yourself as an A, please describe how you reconcile the creation stories in Genesis with the scientific data from multiple disciplines that do not indicate the appearance of all of life during the 6 days of Creation.

If you have classified yourself as a B, please describe how you reconcile the scientific data indicating an old earth and the gradual appearance of species with the Creation stories of Genesis.

If you have classified yourself as a C, please describe your position regarding origins.

You may be as brief or as detailed as you care to be.  I choosing your ID in the comments section, you may respond anonymously, use a fictitious ID, or share your actual ID.  I would ask that if you choose Anonymous, use some sort of signature at the end of your comments in order to differentiate among the anonymous responses.  If you do not want to share your thoughts on this blog but would like to respond, you may send an email to me at

Also, regardless of your classification, I would like to know if there are any significant issues that remain problematic for you, with either the scientific evidence or the biblical account.

Thanks so much, and hope to hear from you all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Although I really cannot determine exactly what Neil Young was trying to say in this song, it is one of my favorites.  And this my favorite version:

"After The Goldrush"

Well, I dreamed I saw the knights
In armor coming,
Saying something about a queen.
There were peasants singing and
Drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree.
There was a fanfare blowing
To the sun
That was floating on the breeze.
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst thru the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
Thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun,
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones.
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun.
They were flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home in the sun.
Flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home.

Monday, September 12, 2011


With all that has already been written on the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the US, what could there be left to say?  I feel a bit like Jerry Coyne who wrote "Today will be an orgy of remembrance of the events of ten years ago; even at 5 a.m. the television was full of the stuff.  I have nothing to contribute to what’s already been said, so I just want to remember another anniversary that took place yesterday: what would have been the 70th birthday of Stephen Jay Gould, probably the most prominent evolutionary biologist of our time (September 10, 1941 – May 20, 2002).  

Although I skipped many of the stories and op/ed pieces about 9/11, I did appreciate several pieces.  This article by Chris Hedges is very thoughtful and no doubt not particularly popular; another article that likely did not set well with many folks but still has some excellent points is Susan Jacoby's column on The Sacralized Myth of 9/11;  I also appreciated Bill Keller's reassessment of his support for Bush's wars.


 On the fifth anniversary of the US September 11, we were in Argentina, living in Buenos Aires on a street named Once de Septiembre.  Here is what I wrote on this blog - 9/11  A View from Argentina:

It is interesting that the Casa is located on 11 de Septiembre. Naturally folks in the USA think of our September 11, but the Argentine September 11 is to commemorate the passing of nineteenth century President Domingo Sarmiento who was known for his support of education. I am sure that the US media is filled with various perspectives on the day and on the five years since the attacks. What I would like to share is some of the commentary from the Buenos Aires Herald. The Editorial entitiled "9/11" first chided the Argentines and the government for their tepid response to the attacks, but closed with the following paragraph:

"Yet five years later the international response to 9/11 does not look much better - Washington in particular is guilty not so much of oversimplifying the issue (but rather of) the error of confusing conventional warfare against perceived rogue nation-states with effective action against an unconventional and global terrorist challenge. Big Brother methods are also a terrorist victory - rather than fighting fire with fire, the civilized world should retain its faith that the open society and globalization which the terrorists turned to their advantage can also be used against them."
There was also a more detailed op-ed piece entitled "9/11: Five Years On - US Foreign Policy in the Shadow of September 11" from which I have lifted the following quotes that reflect the tenor of the article:
"If anniversaries are good for anything it is as an opportunity for sober reflection and analysis. . .(the attacks gave) a sense of direction and purpose to a Bush administration that previously had defined its foreign policy agenda in largely negative, anti-Clintonian terms. According to the campaign rhetoric of 2000, a Bush-Cheney administration would avoid half-baked humanitarian interventions of the Kosovo and Somalia type and focus instead on rigorous defense of US interests. By September 2001 it remained uncertain what these interests were and what their defense would amount to in practical terms. The rhetoric of democracy promotion and security projection represented a merger of the two dominant schools of post-Cold War US foreign policy thinking. . . In place of Communism, Islamic extremism was now installed as the monolithic, global threat against which the US foreign policy and military apparatus must be aligned. . . Although a fascinating intellectual exercise, the Bush Doctrine has been a mitigated disaster in application. . . Although the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns have been failures if judged in terms of democracy promotion and security projection, the gradual withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan even as the country regresses back into chaos suggests that these were never the real priorities of the US invasion. . . The idealistic sounding elements of the Bush doctrine were always secondary to the 'realist' preoccupation of attacking perceived threats to US security. (For example) in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Bush administration has cooperated with and sought to protect compliant autocratic regimes. . . Having turned democracy promotion into such a central rhetorical theme, however, the Bush administration is no longer able to admit publicly that democracy is acceptable only if its outcomes fall within certain proscribed boundaries. . One of the major lessons learned from the September 11 attacks and their aftermath is that democracy cannot be spread around the world at the point of a gun. For this reason, the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions are likely to represent a bloody and regrettable historical tangent rather than a sign of things to come."
Of course, every newspaper has its bias, and my initial impression is that the Herald is influenced by the New York Times, e.g. they publish Times pieces such as Thomas Friedman's recent analysis of Iraq. Some of you may know that Chile also has its 9/11, commemorating the 1973 bloody military coup of Augusto Pinochet toppling elected President Salvador Allende. Pinochet remains secluded and under indictment for human rights abuses and tax evasion.
Pepperdine is an excellent university.  Much more important than the spectacular location in Malibu and the stellar physical facilities are the people of Pepperdine.  Some of our finest colleagues, dearest friends and outstanding students are Waves.  We have fond memories and deep affection for the aggregate that is Pepperdine University.  However, nothing is perfect :-)  No doubt some folks believe that Pepperdine is too liberal, others too conservative; some too Christian, others not Christian enough; and so on.  The main thing that I  do not understand and do not particularly appreciate is the University's right-leaning, conservative Republican, nationalistic tendencies that I have written about here.  
Pepperdine's 9/11 memorial activities are particularly puzzling to me.  Here is some of the PR for Sunday's event:
Pepperdine University is planning a special 9/11 remembrance on our Malibu campus on Sunday, September 11th, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the attacks on America.  We hope members of the Pepperdine community – students, faculty, staff, and their families and friends will take part in honoring those whose lives were sacrificed on that fateful day.

In addition to our breathtaking display of 2,976 flags representing all the victims and emergency responders who died on 9/11, we will present a reading of the victims’ names beginning at 11:00 a.m. at Alumni Park with many of the readers coming from our own Pepperdine community as well as local groups and organizations.

Also scheduled is a 1 p.m. viewing of the film, United 93 in Elkins Auditorium which tells the story of the heroism of United Flight 93 crew and passengers who fought back against the terrorists and prevented the plane from hitting its intended target in the nation’s capital.  Joining Craig Detweiler in a post-screening discussion will be actor Christian Clemenson who portrayed Thomas E. Burnett, Jr., in the film.  Another film, Brothers In Arms, about the war in Iraq will also be screened.

At 4:00 p.m., Pepperdine will present an hour-long memorial service honoring the extraordinary heroism of those who lost their lives.  The service will include remarks by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton, and Deena Burnett-Bailey whose husband, Tom Burnett, an alumnus of Pepperdine, was one of the heroes who perished on Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

Please make plans to join us throughout this special day of remembrance and especially at our 4 p.m. memorial service. For members of our community who are veterans or have family members currently serving in the military, please contact Tami McKelvy at for limited reserved seating at the memorial service.

President Benton announced that a military flyover will be a part of the procedures.

All of this sounds much more like what would happen at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs rather than on the campus of a Christian university.  All of this fits into the myth that Jacoby described in her article.  It is unclear to me how nationalism and militarism trumps the messages of the Gospel.

8/6 & 8/9

If you are stumbling a bit on these dates, click here.  Different time, different place, different circumstances, but some would deem these actions a form of terrorist attacks.  Regardless of anyone's opinion about that, it is interesting to note how the Japanese commemorate these dates.  Flying 200,000+ Rising Sun flags?  Honoring the Emperor and the military?  Nationalistic displays?  Nope.  Folks gather at rivers, light candles and float them downstream in remembrance of all of those who died on those days.  Seems a bit more appropriate.......

Candles and paper lanterns float on the Motoyasu River in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome at the Peace Memorial Park, in memory of the victims of the bomb on the 63rd anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb on August 6, 2008 in Hiroshima, Japan. The dropping of the atomic bomb by the U.S. killed an estimated 70,000 people instantly on August 6, 1945 with many thousands more dying over the following years from the effects of radiation. Three days later another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, ending World War II.


Come you masters of war
You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks.

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly.

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain.

You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion'
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud.

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins.

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand over your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead.

Bob Dylan

Sunday, September 11, 2011


And I wished for so long...
I cannot stay
All the precious moments...
Cannot stay
It's not like wings have fallen...
I cannot say
Without you something is missing...
I cannot say

Holding hands of daughters and sons
In their phase they're falling down
Down, down, down

I have wished for so long...
How I wish for you again

We all walk the long road
I cannot stay
There's no need to say goodbye

Oh, the friends and family...
All the memories going round
Round, round round...

I have wished for so long...
How I wished for you today

And the wind keeps rollin'
And the sky keeps turning grey
And the sun is setting
The sun will rise another day

I have wished for so long...
How I wish for you today

I have wished for so long...
How I wish for you today
Will I walk the long road?
We all walk the long road

Thursday, September 08, 2011


Here is a post from Scott Lawson's blog For What It's Worth.  Scott is a non-Menno, non-GCer, non-Goshenite who lives and writes about things in Northern Indiana.  Scott contacted me a while back about Goshen College's decision to drop the National Anthem for other 'appropriate' tunes like America the Beautiful. I have previously written about my opinion here and here

Ah, pacifists. Sometimes, you make it so easy.

Goshen College, located somewhere in or near Goshen, Ind., has people aching for a fight.

The school was founded on Mennonite principles and had never played the national anthem before any athletic contest. Eventually, that led to a minor uproar a few years ago, so under a little pressure (OK, that's my conjecture), they began toying with the idea of starting games with songs of America -- including a non-lyrical version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Their problem with Francis Scott Key's poem to war and America? As Mennonites, they don't believe in war or, on some levels, countries. Mennonites and related religions have the distinction of being Christians who were, centuries ago, beaten up by both Protestants and Catholics via the state churches. So they tend to be very pro-separation between church and state.

After two years of tinkering with songs, the college decided to do something stupid. They adhered to their principles. And that provoked a myriad of profound responses throughout the Internet   (and I imagine to the inboxes of Goshen College administrators).

"I think this fine institution of higher learning needs to move to Mexico or Rwanda, so they experience the diversity there and get away from hateful whitey. Not 60 years ago, our ancestors knew how to handle this b.s., the problem is, we've become a nation of sheeple. "

"Want alternatives to the national anthem? Here's one: The Star Spangled Banner. Here's another: You don't like it, get out of rotten old America and go to Europe. They don't like us, either."

"You don't like the National Anthem? Then I suggest you pull up stakes and move to another country. This country has not survived and thrived because of a bunch of pacifists, but because of people who fought and died for this America to be founded as a free country, and to remain free in subsequent wars. You want the benefits of living in a free land then put yourself out for it. It isn't about you it is about America."

Now, I don't have all that much in common with anyone at Goshen College. For instance, they are either college educated or getting a college education; they attend church dozens of times a year; they know where Goshen College is and they have a principle of avoiding confrontation.

Of those aspects, I can kind of tell you about where Goshen College is; somewhere in or near Goshen. Kinda close to South Bend. Probably closer to Elkhart.

But that's about it. My college education is lacking. My church attendance more-so. And my moments of being non-confrontational are limited.

So it's easy for us to beat up on Goshen College. I mean, what have they done for us? During wars, Mennonites have routinely been conscientious objectors -- working in health and agricultural fields in nations overseas but avoiding fights. Well, that's kinda Christ-like and all, but Christ doesn't protect our oil fields or homes. 

Alas, in an era of I'll-out-patriot-you-with-a-bigger-flag-pennant-on-my-lapel, Goshen College students and officials have decided they'll avoid patriotism. I guess they don't think Jesus Christ would put his hand on his heart for America. I hope that doesn't mean they don't believe he roots for my favorite football team to win as well when I have $50 on the game...

I tried contacting several Goshen College students from Northwest Indiana, to no avail. Maybe they just don't want to be questioned about it anymore. 

However, I did hear from one of their alums.

"I was very much chagrined by the decision to play the National Anthem at GC and am pleased that the 'trial period' has ended," Douglas Swartzendruber wrote me in an email.

I can barely spell his name. I can't imagine he's very smart or important to America. Oh, wait... upon further review........

What has he done for America? I guess he's fighting cancer while he works at Pepperdine University or doing research in Colorado.. Well, la-de-da. What's that ever done for us? It certainly hasn't helped lessen traffic on our interstates.

He was one of the original signers of the request not to use the song. And he has caught some hell for it. But, in his mind, it's not something that's going to send him on a path to Hell.

You can check out some of his thoughts at his blog.

Here's the thing: I like pacifists. I like the concept. I'd be terrible at it, but I think they are actually doing things -- in general -- the right way. I know a guy who isn't a pacifist who sits down during the national anthem. He isn't making a statement of conviction -- he is trying to piss people off. But Goshen College isn't trying to anger anyone. They are simply standing by their convictions. And if you strike them out of anger, or believe you are a better American than they are because you think our country is based on a flag and a song, you're missing out a key element.

We're a country of people and of laws. And good people who respect those laws, even if they reject some of our country's cultural traditions, should be just as respected as anyone else. If a private, religious institution decides they don't want to promote war, why strike their face? They'll probably just offer you the other cheek.

Still, I'll be honest, if I'm at a Goshen College game (which would be surprising because I don't really no where it's located), and someone starts to give them any grief ... I'd be happy to be  John Book to their Eli Lapp. Well, not with nearly a good as a right hook...

But, alas, they'd just offer you paz. And that's not a candy that causes cavities...

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


And lastly, John Mark Reynolds, a philosopher at Biola University, responded to the same question:

Q. Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Perry later added “God is how we got here.” According to a 2009 Gallup study , only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere “theory”? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?

A. Rick Perry really did it this time.  He dared wonder about Darwinism in public. He better realize that hell hath no fury to match that of a Darwinist scorned. Denunciations will follow, because every age produces people who enjoy denouncing anyone daring to wonder about what they know to be true.

That’s too bad, because there are good discussions that could be had about Darwin, Darwinism, evolution, and evolutionism.

Charles Darwin was a world class scientist and natural philosopher. His writings suggest a general view of how to do science, of reality, and he proposed several scientific theories that most scientists continue to find useful.  Read Darwin. Interacting with his ideas is always stimulating to better thinking. Darwin, like most scientists of his day, wanted to limit science to natural causes partly because they thought natural causes could explain everything.  When he told how species originated naturally, he thought the story was done.

Let’s call his general philosophy “Darwinism” and his scientific ideas “evolution.” Most Americans rightly reject “Darwinism,” but confuse this sensible rejection with denying that “evolution” happens.This mistake is encouraged when loud Internet atheists consistently push the two things together.  “Darwinism” is certainly incompatible with Christianity and quite possibly wrong. Nature, matter and energy, are not all there is. Mind exists and so things can be caused by intelligence as well as impersonal forces. If scientists decided to limits themselves to the impersonal, then science will not be able to explain some important things.  They will leave that job to some other field of knowledge. For example, science can give endless detail about what is the case, but it can never tell a rational man what ought to be the case. If science refuses to consider more than what makes up a thing, then it will never know the purpose of the thing.  An exhaustive description of what makes a star does not tell what a star is without the further dubious philosophical assumption that things the sum of their parts.

Governor Perry wants to leave room for God. Darwinism does not, but evolution can if understood modestly. Internet atheists will be eager to confuse this issue, as will a few religious believers, but there is an important issue here.  Schools should teach the scientific consensus, but not smuggle secularism or Darwinism in with it. They do and it should stop. If these discussions cannot take place in science class, then there should be a good class in philosophy offered.

Of course, there is the further question: “Is evolution true?”

Darwin’s best idea, evolution, came with many other related ideas. Very soon some of them were rejected by scientists as they learned about genetics. Others have continued to enjoy the support of almost all practicing scientists.  A few scientists and philosophers have seen problems with modern forms of evolution. They think these problems are serious enough that the entire theory is called into question. They differ in how radically they wish to challenge the established orthodoxy, but often find that Darwinism prevents their being able to make their challenges heard.

That would be too bad.

Other scientists, theologians, and philosophers have a more radical idea. They think that science took a wrong turn by excluding personal causation or theology. Philosopher J.P. Moreland argues in Christianity and the Nature of Science that while generally a harmless error to practicing scientists, eventually a closed philosopher of science will limit progress.  The first group of skeptics about evolution contain those who believe in a Creator and a few who do not. The second group are “creationists,” though like any intellectual movement they differ amongst themselves about where to draw lines.  A Christian is presented with a cheerful situation. He can, if he wishes, accept the scientific consensus. It is compatible with his faith. On the other hand, the God-given right to wonder may lead him to try bolder experiments in relating his religious knowledge to his scientific knowledge.

All Christians, from Francis Collins an evangelical who accepts evolution, to Michael Behe, a Catholic who is critical of some ideas, to Kurt Wise, a paleontologist and creationist, should agree in rejecting philosophical Darwinism.

What do I think?

I am very skeptical that evolution, as we understand it, is adequate, but cautious knowing I am not a scientist. Separately, I believe science should be more open, at some level, to intelligent causation and believe “creationism” solves some important philosophical problems. It makes sense to commit and see. Finally, I don’t think any of our “big theories” are flawless and enjoy wondering about all of them.

Christianity does not force me to believe any of those things. Intellectual curiosity did as did an aversion to Darwinist bullying. Meanwhile, none of that prevents me from using our best present ideas in thinking about the world. The scientific consensus may not be “true,” but it is still useful.
Like a man with an imperfect tool, I will keep using it until a better one comes along. I suspect one will, but meanwhile am patient.

Plato told a truth about both religion and science in his Timaeus. Both religion and science give humanity useful ideas and theories. Science can better our physical well being and religion heals our souls. Since body and soul are linked, both good science and good theology together produce happy flourishing humans. Plato called the fusion of science and religion a myth.  He did not mean by “myth” a false story about gods, but a big explanation for everything that can never be more than likely given our humanity. Christians know that being right about some details doesn’t mean that we have put them together correctly. Scientists know this as well, which is not surprising since science originated in an overwhelmingly Christian society.  The danger is when we become rigid about our interpretation of scientific data or our interpretation of religious data or how the two should relate. Worse we can treat either science or religion as having nothing to teach us. This arrogance leads to the vitriol on this issue so easy to find.

My own position has been to encourage a maximum set of possibilities in these discussions. I suspect that people will look back and realize that most of what we believed scientifically today was just a subset of some greater series of theories. My suspicion is that Genesis will have been useful in that process.

Governor Perry should think more about these issues. While policy should be made from the current scientific consensus, he should make sure dissenters are heard. He should keep wondering.


Cal Thomas was also asked to comment on Rick Perry's views of evolution:

Q. Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Perry later added “God is how we got here.” According to a 2009 Gallup study , only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere “theory”? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?
It is a useless argument because creationists will never persuade evolutionists they are right and evolutionists will never persuade creationists they are right. No one was there “in the beginning” so I am going to trust what God said. If people don’t want their children taught evolution as fact, they have options. They can home school them, or send them to schools that teach what they believe. If they choose to send them to public schools where evolution -- and the consequences of that theory -- are taught, then they have made a decision that will result in their children learning humans are material and energy shaped by pure chance in a random universe, with no author of life, no purpose for living and no destination after we die. ..a little more complex than a cabbage, but of no greater moral significance. This is the outworking of evolutionary theory. If parents send their kids to public schools, they should be aware of this and not try to rationalize their decision.


H/T to the Sensuous Curmudgeon for pointing toward three disparate responses to Rick Perry's view science, and evolution in particular.  Here is the first of the three, from the never-soft-spoken Richard Dawkins

Q. Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Perry later added “God is how we got here.” According to a 2009 Gallup study , only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere “theory”? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?

A. There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

Any other organization -- a big corporation, say, or a university, or a learned society - -when seeking a new leader, will go to immense trouble over the choice. The CVs of candidates and their portfolios of relevant experience are meticulously scrutinized, their publications are read by a learned committee, references are taken up and scrupulously discussed, the candidates are subjected to rigorous interviews and vetting procedures. Mistakes are still made, but not through lack of serious effort.

The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.

A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.

Darwin’s idea is arguably the most powerful ever to occur to a human mind. The power of a scientific theory may be measured as a ratio: the number of facts that it explains divided by the number of assumptions it needs to postulate in order to do the explaining. A theory that assumes most of what it is trying to explain is a bad theory. That is why the creationist or ‘intelligent design’ theory is such a rotten theory.

What any theory of life needs to explain is functional complexity. Complexity can be measured as statistical improbability, and living things are statistically improbable in a very particular direction: the direction of functional efficiency. The body of a bird is not just a prodigiously complicated machine, with its trillions of cells - each one in itself a marvel of miniaturized complexity - all conspiring together to make muscle or bone, kidney or brain. Its interlocking parts also conspire to make it good for something - in the case of most birds, good for flying. An aero-engineer is struck dumb with admiration for the bird as flying machine: its feathered flight-surfaces and ailerons sensitively adjusted in real time by the on-board computer which is the brain; the breast muscles, which are the engines, the ligaments, tendons and lightweight bony struts all exactly suited to the task. And the whole machine is immensely improbable in the sense that, if you randomly shook up the parts over and over again, never in a million years would they fall into the right shape to fly like a swallow, soar like a vulture, or ride the oceanic up-draughts like a wandering albatross. Any theory of life has to explain how the laws of physics can give rise to a complex flying machine like a bird or a bat or a pterosaur, a complex swimming machine like a tarpon or a dolphin, a complex burrowing machine like a mole, a complex climbing machine like a monkey, or a complex thinking machine like a person.

Darwin explained all of this with one brilliantly simple idea - natural selection, driving gradual evolution over immensities of geological time. His is a good theory because of the huge ratio of what it explains (all the complexity of life) divided by what it needs to assume (simply the nonrandom survival of hereditary information through many generations). The rival theory to explain the functional complexity of life - creationism - is about as bad a theory as has ever been proposed. What it postulates (an intelligent designer) is even more complex, even more statistically improbable than what it explains. In fact it is such a bad theory it doesn’t deserve to be called a theory at all, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.

The simplicity of Darwin’s idea, then, is a virtue for three reasons. First, and most important, it is the signature of its immense power as a theory, when compared with the mass of disparate facts that it explains - everything about life including our own existence. Second, it makes it easy for children to understand (in addition to the obvious virtue of being true!), which means that it could be taught in the early years of school. And finally, it makes it extremely beautiful, one of the most beautiful ideas anyone ever had as well as arguably the most powerful. To die in ignorance of its elegance, and power to explain our own existence, is a tragic loss, comparable to dying without ever having experienced great music, great literature, or a beautiful sunset.

There are many reasons to vote against Rick Perry. His fatuous stance on the teaching of evolution in schools is perhaps not the first reason that springs to mind. But maybe it is the most telling litmus test of the other reasons, and it seems to apply not just to him but, lamentably, to all the likely contenders for the Republican nomination. The ‘evolution question’ deserves a prominent place in the list of questions put to candidates in interviews and public debates during the course of the coming election.

Thursday, September 01, 2011


On the evening of August 24, thanks to son-in-law Jonathan Moyer, I was on the receiving end of a free dinner at the downtown Denver Hyatt [well, it was almost free - we had to pay for parking].  Daughter Rachel had a work conflict, so I got to be the replacement.  The event was the Fourteen Annual Dinner for the University of Denver Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, where Jonathan is currently working toward a PhD. Basically it's a fund-raiser with lots of schmoozing and catering to rich folks, but it's also a time to recognize some folks who have had an impact in Denver and the world.  This years honorees were Chauncey Billups, Timothy and Bernadette Marquez, and Ban Ki-Moon, who also gave the keynote address.

But this is not about the event - it's about free food!  We were greeted at the top of the escalator by staff serving champagne.  Then it was on to the open bar for a Blue Moon and a glass of Merlot.  Dinner was First Course - Butter Leaf Lettuce & Endive Salad with Honey Glazed Pecans, Fresh Figs and Local Fort Collins Goat Cheese with a Sherry Garlic Vinaigrette;  Entree - Creek Stone All Natural Filet Mignon with Boursin and a Syrah Reduction, Parmesan Truffle Risotto, and Asparagus & Half Roasted Roma Tomato; Dessert - Dulce Picchu.   Everything was very good.

What is the fascination with free food?  I don't think that it's only me.  I certainly did not grow up hungry, but I think that perhaps it all started in college.  At Goshen College, the meals were strictly rationed - not even a second glass of milk was allowed during my first couple of years at GC.  And, being growing and active boys, we were always looking for more food, and the cheaper the better.  Many times we would toast up a whole loaf of bread and top it off with peanut butter and jelly.  Our roommates from Vietnam introduced us to "noodle" and we could fill up for pennies!  During graduate school days, we students would keep a keen eye out for any event that was accompanied by free food.  Thus, I became hooked on the concept that if one looked around, one could find an abundance of free food, from holiday receptions hosted by administrators to departmental seminars and gatherings to happy hours featuring free food bars.

While I still keep on the lookout for free food, our focus now is more on cheap food at Happy Hours!  But free is still good, and thanks Jon - that was the best free food I have had in some time :-)