Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My response to Prichard's response to my response to Krauss's response: Or, why anti-creationists really ought to get a life.

Well, apparently one member of the mob out gathering wood to place at the foot of the stake being prepared for scientific heretic creationist Ken Ham noticed my CJ article, and was not pleased. Maybe they'll try to burn me now too.

You just gotta love these champions of open inquiry.

In a letter to the CJ editor today, James M. Prichard condemns my recent article pointing out the hypocrisy of the scientific establishment that cannot brook any kind of dissent when it comes to Darwinism. "Martin's Cothran's [sic] attempt," he says, "to portray Lawrence Krauss, a vocal critic of the new Creation Museum, as an alarmist seeking to 'stamp out divergent opinions on scientific issues' is comparable to condemning a surgeon general for warning against snake-oil peddlers."

Well, no, really it isn't. We can take the salesman's snake oil into the lab and test it to see if it is poisonous, and know for sure whether it is. But there's no way to take a theory of what happened tens of millions of years ago into the lab to see if it is inaccurate, and know definitely whether it is.

Can't be done.

And this is part of my point on this whole debate: you simply cannot know with any real clarity what happened that long ago, and anyone who says they do is simply blowing smoke. If you accept divine revelation (and that is another issue entirely), and you interpret it correctly (which is where, in my opinion, Ken Ham goes astray), you can at least claim some kind of certitude. The scientist with his fragmentary collection of fossils, however, is going to have to settle for hypotheses that can never be truly verified. How do you verify something that happened, say, 65 million years ago?

Science's theories of the past are always tentative. That's why, on the issue of origins, they should stop acting like their findings were handed down from Sinai.

"Make no mistake," says Prichard, "The Creation Museum sends a clear message to children that modern science is anti-religious." Is Prichard really concerned about people who portray modern science as anti-religious? If he is, then, once he's done protesting in front of the Creation Museum, he needs to take his picket signs over to the offices of people like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Steven Pinker. That's the whole message of the New Atheists: that science and religion are inherently incompatible.

I won't be holding my breath.

Hawpe refuses to join the mob.

Dare I say it? Check out David Hawpe's piece in today's CJ on the Creation Museum. Obviously Hawpe has decided not join the mob now gathering kindling to burn heretic Ken Ham at the scientific stake. He doesn't agree with Ken Ham (nor do I), but he actually believes in tolerance and open mindedness. There really are a few true liberals left.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Shrieking common sense

In Richard Day's blog, Kentucky School News and Commentary, he has, today, an interesting post on the controversy surrounding Ken Ham's Creation Museum. At the end of the otherwise temperate and informative post is this strange comment: "The Family Foundation's Martin Cothran absolutely shrieks in an Op-Ed in the Courier-Journal."


What exactly is that supposed to mean? Shrieks what? That one of the obligations of science is to avoid being dismissive of alternative views on scientific questions just because they go against the prevailing winds of scientific opinion? That dogmatism is not a useful virtue in a discipline that prides itself on open-mindedness?

Surely Day is not trying to prove my point by being dismissive himself? Perish the thought.

Day's blog is normally the best site going on Kentucky school news. Maybe he just had a bad day.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Response to Lawrence Krauss runs in today's CJ

My response to the intemperate call to squelch the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky by Case Western Reserve's Lawrence Krauss ran in today's Courier Journal.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

No, I'm not the one behind the Draft Forgy site

Two reporters have contacted me in the last couple of days asking me if I was the one behind the "Draft Forgy" site. Why are they asking me? Well, I have always been a Forgy supporter, but the reason was that, apparently (I still have not seen the site), the site uses the same design template as mine--with the same colors.

The design template used on my site is one of's preset templates, so anyone setting up a blogspot site can use it. In fact, I have come across a couple of sites in the last year that use the same template.

The other thing is this: I don't think it would be a good idea for Forgy to run against a man who is the Republican leader in the U. S. Senate, who exercises almost unchallenged authority in the state party (although some of the luster has come off with the Northup defeat), and who has a highly formidible campaign warchest. To paraphrase something Forgy once said to me on another situation, any friend of Forgy's who urges him to run against McConnell is not his friend. Forgy was wise to indicate (assuming the report I saw today is true) that he is not interested.

So, no, I am not the one behind the site. Furthermore, you guys who are, I know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but would you please get another design for your site?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Six lessons from yesterday's election

Yesterday's election tells us a number of things.

On the Democratic side, the story was the more-decisive-than-expected win for Steve Beshear and the poorer-than-expected performance of Bruce Lunsford. In fact, the only thing Lunsford seemed to have going for him was Greg Stumbo. Someone (I thought it was the Board of Elections, but I can no longer find it) printed a color-coded county-by-county map of the Democratic results. A whole section of eastern Kentucky was Lunsford yellow, with only 4 or 5 yellow counties outside the region. Stumbo delivered his home territory, and that was about all. Stumbo also had the best victory speech of the night, with the possible exception of Jeff Hoover.

On the Republican side, several observations:

1. Fletcher is no longer unelectable. The opening line of his otherwise lackluster victory speech (will someone please get the man a speech writer?) said it all: "I guess we've settled the electability question." No one who beats McConnell in Kentucky Republican politics is unelectable, and that is what he did. It's no big secret that McConnell was behind Northup's candidacy, and by beating Northup, Fletcher foiled McConnell's designs. Name another Kentucky politician who has managed the feat. And just as importantly, he exceeded expectations, one of the best things you can do in politics.

2. The so-called "scandal" is old news. The new news is that Beshear is a liberal. This, it would seem, will be the competing messages is the fall: from the Beshear campaign that Fletcher is corrupt, and from the Fletcher campaign that Beshear is a liberal. Odds are that more people will believe (and care about) the latter than the former. The primary damage the hiring scandal did to Fletcher was to create the general perception of incompetence: that he was neither a good politician nor a good adminstrator. It also hurt that Stumbo clearly won the PR war, and no one likes a loser. Fletcher's ads during the primary didn't help this impression. People don't like a milquetoast who walks away from a fight. They want a champion. Fletcher needs to drop the commercials with the silly schoolboy who walks away from the bullies. Make one instead in which he turns around and decks a couple of them. People like to see the good guys win, not walk away from the contest.

3. The new news won't be news unless Fletcher makes it news. The common wisdom on election night was that Fletcher would hammer the social issues this fall, and, at least this time, the common wisdom was probably right. Beshear's record provides the Fletcher campaign with a wealth of ammunition for a battle on social issues. From the Ten Commandments to the abortion issue, the Fletcher campaign can't but be rubbing its hands. But the liberal pundits overestimate Fletcher's willingness to embrace conservative social issues. He has, in fact, always been reluctant to do so. Reluctance in this case could cost him dearly. This, by the way is one reason why the casino gambling issue, which helped Beshear in the primary, might backfire on him this fall. If Fletcher plays it right, he can turn the casino gambling issue around on Beshear by making it one more piece of evidence in the larger picture of a liberal Democratic candidate.

4. Fletcher needs a rallying cry. Let's hope Fletcher's victory speech was not an indication of the themes he intends to strike this fall. It was uninspiring and devoid of any meaningful themes. Fletcher needs to give his supporters a cause they can fight for, and vague and meaningless pronouncements on education aren't going to do it. Social issues, once again, fit the bill.

5. Thank you, Stan Lee. I spoke this morning with David Hawpe, editorials editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal. He pointed out that Stan Lee's win was "the best thing that could have happened to both of us" (meaning me, the conservative, and him, the liberal). Lee, he presumably meant, was the candidate conservatives loved best, and the candidate liberals loved best to hate. That race, he asserted, would determine whether Kentucky was more like I wanted to see it, or like he wanted to see it. I pointed out that, if it was more like I wanted to see it, then it might play into Stan Lee's hands for the Courier-Journal to paint Lee as an archconservative. "You may be right," he said. I made the point knowing, of course, that it wouldn't make any difference to the Quixotic liberal Hawpe. The CJ obviously doesn't care if it helps conservatives win by charging them with not being liberals. After all both the CJ and the Herald-Leader endorsed Northup over Fletcher, which probably did nothing to help Northup, and a whole lot to help Fletcher. Stan Lee's candidacy will also help Fletcher by putting conservative issues at the forefront.

6. Fletcher needs to listen to Larry Forgy. While Fletcher has a political tin ear, Forgy has one of the best political ears in Kentucky politics. He knows how to appeal to social conservatives without sounding like an extremist. The best thing the Fletcher campaign can do is to follow his advice.

Is the end of science at hand?

Whatever you think about creationism, the attempt to silence dissenting views on human origins is not the way to further scientific knowledge.

In an editorial in yesterday's Louisville Courier-Journal, Lawrence Krauss sounds the alarm bells over a new creation science museum in Northern Kentucky. Possessed by something other than the scientific spirit of open-mindedness, Krauss urges parents to bring suit against any school system that uses public funds to take children to the museum, and calls on the media and government officials to take action.

What is Krauss so worried about?

Krauss is upset because the $27 million Creation Museum institutionalizes a "scientific lie" that could influence thousands of people. Ken Ham’s museum, he frets, is "within a day's drive of two-thirds of the U.S. Population." He seems to envision a vast migration of humanity, hungry for a look at the museum's giant robotic dinosaurs, who will then return home having abandoned all belief in modern science.

Many of Krauss's readers (some of whom, like myself, read his article over the Internet) can be excused for wondering why, in the age of iPods, laptops, and cellphones, anyone would be haranguing newspaper readers with the message that the end of science is at hand.

But if Krauss, a scientist at Case Western Reserve, really thinks deceiving the masses with inaccurate scientific information is so "dangerous," he ought to check out his own professional backyard.

For years, science textbooks carried illustrations of developing human embryos that were used to demonstrate the belief that individual embryos followed the same developmental pattern as the human species itself. However, many of these drawings turned out to have been faked, overstating the similarities between individual and species development.

Students were also told that peppered moths in English woodlands near polluted cities were black, in contrast to white moths with black speckles that predominated elsewhere, making them less visible to predators when they rested on tree trunks: a clear example of animals adapting to their environment. But it turned out that peppered moths almost never rest on the outside of tree trunks as the pictures in textbooks showed. Furthermore, these pictures were staged, and some of them featured dead moths either glued or pinned to the trees.

These and other inaccuracies helped to convince a generation of students of the unquestionable truth of Darwin's theory, and textbooks continued to carry them long after many of them were recognized as discredited by the scientific community itself. Some reportedly still carry them.

If Krauss thinks scientific misinformation is so dangerous, why isn't he concerned about these inaccuracies, which have influenced far more students than will ever even hear about Ken Ham's Creation Museum?

Krauss doesn't present a single scientific argument in his entire article, perhaps because has no interest in actually debating views that differ from his own. Such a dogmatic attitude is at least understandable when expressed by people who believe they have a direct revelation from God. Dogmatism is somehow a little easier to swallow when it comes from people who admit to having dogmas, but it is much harder to stomach when it comes from a group of people who make such a show of intellectual openness, respect for open inquiry, and, presumably, some degree of tolerance for alternative beliefs.

Scientists like Krauss, so eager to stamp out divergent opinions on scientific issues, should read Walter Isaacson's new biography of Albert Einstein, who had a penchant for challenging scientific orthodoxies--much to the chagrin of the Lawrence Krauss's of his time. This is one of the ways, in fact, that science advances—when unpopular theories unseat popular ones.

Is Ken Ham's view of the origins of life likely to upend the scientific consensus anytime soon? Of course not. But the least we nonscientists viewing this issue from the outside should be able to expect is a debate--as opposed to an inquisition.

As we read alarmist calls to silence creationists, we should ask ourselves who is more dangerous: an operator of a creationist museum in a small Kentucky town who wants to tell people who choose to visit the facility (and who already agree with him anyway) that the earth is not as old as most scientists think it is? Or dogmatic scientists like Krauss who enjoy an unchallenged control over the nation's curriculum and who want to stamp out all dissent?

Ken Ham's giant robotic dinosaurs may look scary, but we have far more to fear from the alarmist and dogmatic intolerance of people like Lawrence Krauss.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Is there any significance to the fact that the death of the man who brought social conservatism into the Republican Party and Rudy Giuliani apparently "winning" a key Republican candidates' debate occurred on the same day?

Just wondering.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another piece of evidence that traditional families are not obsolete

I was quoted in an Associated Press story that ran today about the role of the families of candidates in political campaigns. I pointed out what is, of course, obvious: candidates feature their families in campaigns because that is what voters like to see. And why do they like to see it? I mentioned two things:

First, voters want to know that a candidate is just like them--or rather (I didn't say this in the story) they want to know that the candidate is like how they would like to see themselves, and most people see themselves in terms of a traditional family.

Secondly, candidates know that voters consider traditional families healthy and normal, and that's the way they want to appear to voters: as healthy and normal. The Current Wisdom has it that the traditional family is obsolete. Politicians know better. If that were really the case, then political ads would be completely different from what, in fact, they are. Notice that even openly gay candidates do not feature picture of their boyfriends (or, in the case of lesbians, girlfriends) on their campaign literature--even in liberal districts. Why? Because it would prove unpopular with the electorate.

In fact, you can almost completely ignore polls and studies when it comes to what people think about something. All you have to do is to see what politicians are appealing to. Candidates have a much more perceptive finger on the pulse of their electorate. They are out talking with real people on a regular basis. Politicians are a much better barometer of where people are on an issue than any artificial measure our statisticians have come up with.

And what does the political barometer tell us? That most people still consider the traditional family is the ideal.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Family Foundation calls for reconsideration of State Education Commissioner selection

For Immediate Release
May 11, 2007
Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

The Family Foundation calls for reconsideration of State School Commissioner selection

LEXINGTON—Pointing to problems with the search process for State School Commissioner, The Family Foundation called for the Kentucky Board of Education to reconsider its selection of Barbara Irwin as the new school’s chief. “At this point, it is clear that we have a newly selected Commissioner of Education who will begin her tenure with little or no credibility. This does not bode well for education in Kentucky,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation.

“The search firm hired by the Board to make the Commissioner selection, Ray and Associates, obviously did not do its job,” Cothran said. “And there are some questions about the process by which the State Board made this selection.” Here is what the search firm’s website says that it does:

Ray and Associates makes every effort to ensure our clients that the candidates recommended for consideration are exactly who they say they are. Careful screening and background checks are essential to this process. Our firm provides our clients with detailed information on each semi-finalist in addition to all other application materials. [emphasis added]

“The discrepancies discovered in her résumé, which include claims that she made presentations she didn’t make, honors she didn’t receive, and organizational bodies she didn’t belong to when she said she did, should have been uncovered by the search firm and related to the Board,” said Cothran. “Either they were not discovered by the search firm, in which case they didn’t meet their contractual obligations to the Board, or the Board and the Kentucky Department of Education knew about the discrepancies and hired Irwin anyway, in which case, the Board and KDE's competence has to be questioned.”

In addition, he said there are other questions about the search firm itself. “The company was administratively dissolved Dec. 5, 1994 for failure to file their annual report to the Secretary of State of Iowa,” Cothran said. “There are also four federal tax liens by Internal Revenue Service listed on the Iowa Secretary of State's website. Although three of these have terminated, there is still one outstanding.”

Cothran said that there are other outstanding questions about the process itself for choosing a Commissioner of Education:
  • What does the selection of this search firm say about the competence of the State School Board?
  • Who selected this search firm?
  • Why have the other application documents (the ones accompanying Irwin’s résumé) not been publicly released?
Are there other potential problems in these documents that we don’t know about yet?
There are three other documents that Irwin would have filled out in the application process. None of these has been released by the State School Board. “Whatever the Board does now,” said Cothran, “the process of selecting the leader of Kentucky’s schools is going to have to change. It’s going to have to be more careful and more open.”


New trouble for Commissioner of Education selection

There are newly discovered discrepancies in Barbara Irwin's accounts of her background.

The controversy over Barbara Irwin, the candidate selected by the Kentucky Board of Education in a unanimous vote for Commissioner of Education for the state on Wednesday, is not going to go away. The School Board's decision has set off a firestorm of controversy over whether Irwin is qualified for the post given discrepancies in accounts of her background in application documents. There are newly uncovered discrepancies in Ms. Irwin's accounts of her background.

Earlier discrepancies uncovered in her resume included the following:
  • Irwin had claimed in her application documents that she had made presentations to a school boards conference in Illinois, when, in fact, she was only a part of a school boards association that made the presentations.
  • Irwin claimed that she had twice been "superintendent of the year" in Texas, in 1997 and 1998. As it turns out, she did not receive that designation in 1998, but only a nomination from her state for the national superintendent of the year in 1999.
  • There was also a simple typo in the title of an academic honors society she was elected to.
But here's a new one, discovered by Richard Innes at the Bluegrass Institute: Irwin lists on her resume that she served on the executive committee of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) from 1991-2001. This is incorrect. Kathi Levine, Director of Governance for AASA, confirmed to us yesterday that, after researching the dates Erwin served on the Executive committee, it appears to them that she served from July 1, 1999 –June 30 2002, not 1991-2001 as she listed.

In other words, it appears Irwin has falsely claimed to have served on the executive committee of an organization for ten years, when she she only served three years.

This selection appears to be dead on arrival. The Kentucky School Board needs to reconvene given the new information on Irwin. Otherwise, they will have a Commissioner of Education for the state who will begin her tenure with little or no credibility. That can't possibly move the state forward on education.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Francis Beckwith and his critics

Well the issue of the differences between Catholicism and protestantism has been placed front and center again with the controversial reconversion of Francis Beckwith, the President of the Evangelical Theological Society, to the Roman Catholic Church. Frank's post on Right Reason explaining the move now has 422 comments, which, as Bill Valicella over at Maverick Philosopher has remarked, must be some kind of record.

I like what Scott Piland at Aslan's How had to say today about it, which reflects my own view: namely, that personal condemnations are not appropriate, and that, rather, people should take it as an opportunity to better understand what exactly the two positions are and how they differ.

Frank is an old friend of mine and has commented on this blog, and my respect for him as an intellect and as a person knows no bounds. I think there are several things not in dispute here. The first is that Frank Beckwith is a man of personal and intellectual integrity: this is not a matter of debate among those who have known him over the years. In addition, whether or not you agree with his return to Catholicism, you have to respect the way he has conducted himself in the wake his announcement. Given the circumstances he was in (being the head of one of the most significant and influential bodies of Christian, and mostly protestant, intellectuals), I don't know that he could have done things more discreetly and more charitably than he has.

The only unfortunate aspect of the episode has nothing to do with Frank himself. It has to do rather with how people have responded to it. Some of the responses from my fellow protestants have been thoughtful, even if critical. Others have quite frankly been uncharitable, if not rude. Fortunately, there have been more of the former than the latter, but it is still disturbing. If you are confident in your position, you don't need to engage in ad hominem attacks on those with whom you disagree. To do so is usually a signal either that your position is weak or that you don't have a good mastery of it. There are those (and these are the ones from whom the personal condemnations of Frank have mostly come) for whom smugness trumps thoughtfulness when it comes to expressing their views on this subject, and who, in consequence, can brook no disagreement whatever. Unfortunately, this doesn't make their case either more compelling or more attractive. They need to stop casting aspersions and start formulating arguments. To do anything less is not only and insult but a lost opportunity.

I am intrigued by the real debate that has gone on and look forward to more of it. It will be a good opportunity for both sides to clarify their positions on things like the doctrine of justification and the five "sola's" of the Reformation, and get beyond the caricatures and straw men that too often plague theological debates between Catholics and protestants. I asked Frank in an e-mail the other day if we could expect an Apologia Pro Vita Sua from him any time soon. That was a reference, of course, to the great work of John Henry Newman, which he wrote in response to the critics of his own very controversial conversion in the late 19th century. Not that Frank, natural controversialist that he is, necessarily needs any provocation to respond to his critics.

Beckwith's is certainly the most high profile conversion since that of Richard John Neuhaus, the editor of First Things Magazine. When Neuhaus converted, there was no blogosphere, so I supposed I shouldn't say that it wasn't quite as controversial as Beckwith's. Maybe it just seems that way. But to my knowledge, Neuhaus never issued a full explanation of why he converted. I think such a thing would have been instructive. Surely the hits Frank has taken are provocation enough for such a work.

Count me out from those who want to run Frank down for this. But I will add my small and insignificant voice to the chorus of those who would like to see his reasons--not so that we can engage in target practice, but so that we can all understand the truth better.

That is, after all, what Frank Beckwith has always been about.