Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition: Senators, Intelligent Design, & Ball State

Senators Kruse, Walker, and Holdman, and Rep. Thompson are trying to inject themselves into a Ball State personnel and curriculum matter. Ball State apparently has a policy against teaching intelligent design as science. Which is fine because whatever intelligent design is, it’s not science. But, there is an astronomy professor who apparently wants to teach it as science.

The trial court in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District had some thoughtful things to say about Intelligent Design and why it isn’t science. The Dover court issued a 139 page decision (pdf). The court noted that ID was, at heart, a religious argument and observed that the writings of leading intelligent design proponents reveal that the designer postulated by intellgient design is the Christian God. This passage by the court gets to the heart of whether Creationism (or intelligent design) ought to be taught as science:

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. …It is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena.

However, not teaching it as science apparently strikes these social conservative legislators as anti-religion. So they are making ominous sounding rumblings at Ball State. The letter had ominous undertones of “nice university you got there, be a shame if the General Assembly had to investigate it.”

They suggest that they won’t be happy if the Ball State committee reviewing the matter is made up of scientists who think that intelligent design isn’t science. Which it isn’t. Populating the committee with mainstream views about what is and isn’t science would be stacking the deck, you see.

Once again, feel free to suggest intelligent design is a notion some people have about how the universe was created. But don’t suggest that it’s science. There is no testable, falsifiable hypothesis involved.

SB 367: Go Ahead and Discriminate on the Basis of Religion. It’s Fine.

An amendment slipped into SB 367 by Rep. Eric Turner on a 9-8 vote would sanction discrimination by contractors with state and local government against employees based on religion.

The amendment alters IC 22-9-1-10 which requires every contract by state or local government to contain a provision that prohibits the contractor, as an employer, from discriminating against an employee based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, or ancestry.

The amendment adds a subsection that says the contract doesn’t have to prohibit religious discrimination if the contractor is a school, educational, or charitable religious institution owned or conducted by or affiliated with a church or religious institution.

Honest to Goodness, Indiana!

Update: Speaker Bosma apparently doesn’t think this is a good idea and, according to Tony Cook, writing for the Indy Star, will have the bill recommitted to have the amendment stripped out. Still, this doesn’t seem like the sort of language that ought to require a lot of legislative procedural contortions to defeat.

SB 141 – Hamilton Won. And That Makes Some Indiana Senators Unhappy

In the past, I believe I have recounted a passage from an American history book where, in the first chapter following the American Civil War, the first line was “Hamilton won.” The reference was to the competing visions of the United States between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The former envisioned a strong federal government. The latter envisioned a weak one. Testing the strength of the federal government, Southern states committed treason in defense of slavery. The rebels in the southern states were too weak to defeat the United States, and Hamilton won.

Senators Delph and Boots have introduced SB 141 which would purport to limit the effect of federal law in Indiana. Also, just by the way, the bill appears to repeal the common law (at least the piece of it in place prior to 1607) as governing law in Indiana. It offers some declarations of the General Assembly about the purpose of the U.S. constitution and then says a federal law found to be unconstitutional pursuant to that declaration is void and unenforceable and, in fact, anyone attempting to enforce such a federal law is guilty of a felony. The statute is conspicuously silent about who has the authority to declare federal law in violation of the federal constitution under this new state statute.

Here is the thing: federal judges get to interpret the federal constitution. And, if they say a law is constitutional, then the Supremacy clause of the United States Constitution says that a state law to the contrary is void. The U.S. Civil War answered the question of who wins when the states and the federal government get into a pissing match over the scope of federal authority.

And the bit about striking the old English common law in place prior to the founding of Jamestown as a source of binding legal authority in Indiana is just bizarre. The common law is the soil in which our democracy grows. Throwing out the stuff at the bottom because it happened to come from Britain is foolish. (If that’s what they’re doing. It looks like knee jerk xenophobia, but maybe they have something else in mind.)

Indiana Youth Group Wins Round in License Plate Litigation

The Indiana Youth Group, a pro-gay organization that raised the ire of anti-gay legislators by getting a license plate sanctioned by the BMV has won a round in a legal battle over the plates. As a condition of having the plates issued, the group entered into a service contract with the BMV. Apparently digging for an excuse to terminate the plate, the BMV took issue with IYG’s practice of offering low numbered license plates as an incentive for increased donations. (The real problem some Indiana lawmakers had with the group was their advocacy for gay rights.)

In any case, an Administrative Law Judge found that the low plate incentive was a violation of the contract. However, the proper remedy under the contract was not termination but, rather, notice of the violation with a thirty day opportunity to cure the problem and comply with the contract. (Selling or auctioning the plate apparently did carry a consequence of immediate termination but the ALJ decided that the incentive was not a sale or auction.) I doubt that will be popular with the lawmakers who objected to the plate and the decision makers at the BMV. They almost certainly didn’t care a great deal about the low plate incentive so much as they wanted an excuse to kill the plate.

The BMV has until, I believe, June 15, 2013 to appeal the ruling.

Group Members and Plausible Deniability

Fred Clark has an article entitled The push-back against the push-back begins: ‘Mainstream’ evangelicals criticize critics of the religious right. It discusses how prominent in the evangelical community are the hateful people who suggested that the Newtown shootings were caused by, for example, God being excluded from the public square. Are guys like Mike Huckabee prominent or fringe?

This is a dynamic that probably goes on with any group to one extent or another. But, I notice it most with the socially conservative, politically active wing of Christianity. The question of whether and to what extent a person is speaking for “Christians” becomes important because that’s generally where the person’s influence comes from. If he were just a dude condemning birth control on some street corner, his public reception is a whole lot different than if he is speaking on television due to his association with a Christian group — even if the content of the speech is exactly the same.

Christians, like most other groups, are not monolithic. Everybody is not going to agree with everybody else. But, it’s difficult to determine whether the views of guys like Dobson or Huckabee represent anything like the consensus of the group or if they’re more like street corner ranters who found their way into a radio studio. The test, I suppose, is if they are readily welcomed back into the fold and by whom after they say something as objectionable as Huckabee’s statement about the Newtown shootings.

War on Christmas Escalates: Christ Himself Now Targeted

Ed Brayton brings us news from the front.

Bryan Fischer says he’s not going to refer to the war on Christmas anymore. Is he finding rationality? Of course not. He’s just decided that the non-existent war on Christmas is really a non-existent war on Christ.

I would have let this pass without comment, but I also then heard a discussion of the “War on Christ” on our local American Family Radio affiliate (WQSG). (I’ve always had a habit of listening to right wing radio, but as Axl put it, “I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do. So the little got more and more.”)

Before I got out of the car, whoever was talking explained how wrong it was that stores like the Gap wanted to profit off of Christmas but didn’t want to call it Christmas. Translation: commercialization of Christmas may be an abomination, but it’s our abomination.

Like so many of these other public square Christianity discussions – like Ten Commandments displays at public facilities or prayers at public functions – I don’t think the conflict is really about keeping or losing faith. Do many people really believe that public displays of piety really improve the moral fiber of the polity? I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. Rather, this is once again about marking territory; an expression of cultural dominance. And, I guess when small things like what a retail clerk says to you at check out suggest that the cultural dominance is slipping, it can be disconcerting.

Children of Rape: God’s Plan or Medical Impossibility?

As I’ve mentioned a number of times, I’m a collection attorney. When I drag a person to court, it’s not pleasant for them. I’m making them go to court and answer my questions so I can take their stuff from them. From time to time during these discussions, some folks will, for whatever reason, try to soften my role in the unpleasantness. “I know you’re just doing your job,” they’ll say. Usually I’ll respond along the lines of “I appreciate what you’re saying, but I could choose another job, so you don’t have to go easy on me on account of that.” It is a job, and it’s not personal to them. I have my reasons for my actions, and I think they are good and sufficient reasons. But I still bear responsibility for my actions, and it would be a cop out if I pretended otherwise.

The other day, I wrote a blog post about Biblical interpretation entitled “It’s Us. Only Us.” One of my points was that I think people should take personal responsibility for the moral positions they adopt. It’s not enough to say that you’re against marriage equality because the Bible tells you homosexuality is a sin. I think that’s a cop out; an effort to shove responsibility for your moral positions onto the authors of the Bible instead of standing up, explaining your reasons, and owning them.

So too do I think Richard Mourdock’s latest statement on abortions and rape is a cop out.

Life is that gift from god. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

This, of course, is at odds with another Senate candidate’s contention that a woman’s body will “shut that whole thing down” if she’s been legitimately raped; posing the question of whether these children of rape are God’s plan or a medical impossibility.

I actually think Mourdock’s position on abortion is the one with the most internally consistent logic. He’s for making abortion against the law except when the mother’s life is in danger. Now, if you believe (and I do not) that, at the moment sperm hits egg, you have a fully human life, entitled to the same protections as all of us, then the sins of that child’s father don’t matter and abortion is exactly the same as walking into a first grade class and putting a bullet in the head of your kid. If both the child and the mother’s lives are on the line, then maybe you have to choose.

But, if as a lawmaker, you decide not only for yourself but for all women everywhere that the wrath of the government will come down on her if she tries to remove the growing child of her rapist from her uterus, don’t hide behind the “will of God.” You are choosing the job and you are choosing the policy that forces her to use her body in this fashion. God didn’t choose the rape. God didn’t mandate that the sperm combine with the egg. And God doesn’t vote in Congress. It’s us, only us.

House Science Committee Member: Big Bang is A Lie Straight From the Pit of Hell

Sweet Jumpin’ Jehosephat. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA): Evolution, Big Bang ‘Lies Straight From The Pit Of Hell’. Rep. Broun serves in the House of Representatives on the House Science Committee. Quoth Rep. Broun:

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” Broun said.

It’d be like putting me on the House Committee for Confederate Heritage or Class Basketball Advocacy or Legible Penmanship.

A Rape By Any Other Name

Garance Franke-Ruta, writing in the Atlantic, has an article entitled “A Canard that will not die: ‘legitimate rape’ doesn’t cause pregnancy.” Congressman and candidate for Missouri Senator, Todd Akin, asserted to KTVI-TV that it’s really rare for “legitimate rape” to result in pregnancy.

Franke-Ruta makes the case that this assertion didn’t come out of left-field, but instead is something that keeps cropping up among pro-life politicians. Sometimes they call it “forcible rape” or “assault rape”. The abortion debates make more sense when viewed not so much as a “valuing life” issue but rather as an issue of disapproving of women having unsanctioned sex and enjoying it. Pregnancy is her punishment for such behavior; abortion and birth control are a sneaky way of escaping righteous punishment.

By pretending that “legitimate rape” doesn’t cause pregnancy, advocates of such a distinction can assure themselves that there are no difficult decisions to make because the pregnancy itself is evidence that, on some level, she was really enjoying herself and is only calling it rape now because she had second thoughts after the passion of the moment had passed. And since she enjoyed herself, the punishment of pregnancy is just.

Now, as a logical matter, if one accepts the premise that at the moment of conception, there is created a human life entitled to our full moral consideration — in other words, if the sanctity of human life comes from its biological properties rather than its biographical properties – it makes sense to not include an exception for rape or incest or really, anything. If you conclude that the mother’s right to bodily integrity is subordinate to society’s right to dictate that she use her body to preserve the life of the growing child, then it shouldn’t matter too much how the child got there. It’s not as if the fetus could help the manner of its conception.

But, putting it into such stark terms is politically difficult and makes some people uneasy — they are more comfortable if they can focus almost exclusively on the good things they want for the child rather than what they are imposing on the woman by mandating those good things for the child. They want to justify the imposition by assuming that the woman is morally culpable for the state she’s in. The fiction that, “if she’s pregnant, she probably liked it” helps thread that needle in cases of rape. And that is probably why the canard has such staying power.

“Joe” the “Plumber”: Too Dumb to Breathe

Kragar at Little Green Footballs brings us the latest in the Wingnut War To Say Dumb Stuff; from “Joe” the “Plumber” (*Caution: Neither Joe nor Plumber).

He says that the Bible beats Science. That’s not the dumb part. Even I, no believer, agree that Jesus and the Bible can give us wisdom in areas where science simply has nothing to offer. No, the dumb part is his explanation: the Bible has no revisions.

Wurzelbacher explained how his pastor, who seems to believe that faith and science are incompatible, noted that while science textbooks have several new editions, the Bible has never been revised. ”Revision Seven.’ He said, ‘now look at the Bible, what does it say’? I said, ‘Holy Bible.’ He said, ‘see any revisions on it Joe’? I said, ‘no.’ He said, ‘the reason why is because this is God’s word…man’s always looking for an answer, that’s why it’s revised.”

Apparently his pastor wasn’t using the New Revised Standard version of the Bible. Or, if he was, maybe Joe was just too embarrassed to admit that he can’t read. And, never mind the 92 complete English language versions of the Bible listed in Wikipedia.

The more important point is that the ability and the inclination to revise science books speaks to its strength, not its weakness. Done properly, science always admits of doubt, permits testing, and demands revision where the testing demonstrates error.