Mike Fair Still Knows Nothing About Evolution

South Carolina state Sen. Mike Fair is one of the most committed and aggressive creationist legislators in the country. He’s tried a number of ways to get his religion inserted into science classrooms and weaken the teaching of evolution and now he’s penned an op-ed for the Greenville newspaper blathering ignorantly on the subject.

Do I believe evolution occurs. Certainly. Evolution means change and it is observable in that sense. There are big dogs and little dogs but big or little dogs are all still dogs. Change occurred but change cannot occur outside the phylum to which dogs belong.

See, this is why we shouldn’t let people who know nothing about science try to influence how science is taught. Dogs are not a phylum, for crying out loud. Dogs are part of the phylum chordata. So are we. So is every animal in the world that has a spine. If you can’t pass the AP biology exam, you shouldn’t be allowed to vote on the biology curriculum.

The “establishment clause” of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution proclaims: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Its meaning is clear!

Noah Webster was considered the Father of Education. In his 1828 published dictionary he defined “establish” as the “use of authority to enact an institutional structure.”

As colonies became states, state religions, mostly Anglican, were common. However, after the Constitution was ratified, taxpayer funded religions violated the establishment clause.

Webster’s 1828 definition of the Constitution includes these words: “the Christian New Testament is the Moral Law for the United States.” So, Noah Webster, was reflecting the fact that the majority of our founding fathers promoted the Christian faith as individuals but agreed the government would not establish a state faith funded by taxpayers.

I have no idea why he thinks this is relevant. Webster was not one of the Founding Fathers and whatever he thought was the “moral law” of the United States, that has nothing at all to do with the proper interpretation of the First Amendment. “I found a really old dead guy who agrees with me” is hardly a compelling argument.

For example, the courts defined science so as to exclude any theory or information not contained in naturalism — also known as Darwin’s theory of Evolution. The judicial system made those decisions. Intelligence is effectively banned by the courts and intelligence is often absent in the courts!

This is gibberish. Darwin’s theory of evolution is not the same thing as naturalism, for crying out loud. The theory of evolution is naturalistic in precisely the same sense that every scientific theory is naturalistic, yet Fair only objects to it in this one case (okay, probably two — add in global warming as well, I’m sure).

Another court case ruled “Intelligent Design” violated the Establishment Clause and was therefore ruled unconstitutional. “Intelligent Design” is an explanation for the cause for specified complexity. It is not a theological construct. It is hard for me to believe that “intelligence” has been ruled unconstitutional in the public schools!

No, intelligent design is not an explanation for the cause of specified complexity (aside: wouldn’t you love to hear Fair try to explain what “specified complexity” is? That could keep me entertained for hours). Intelligent design is a repackaging of the same old discredited creationist arguments against evolution. The ruling in the case he refers to includes mountains of evidence to prove that. As for intelligence being ruled unconstitutional, it seems to me that Fair would be all for that — it would prevent him from ever violating the constitution.

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  • moarscienceplz

    Noah Webster also wrote:

    slavery is a great sin and a general calamity – but it is not our sin, though it may prove to be a terrible calamity to us in the north. But we cannot legally interfere with the South on this subject

    That’s some moral authority Senator Fine’s got there.

  • Al Dente

    Fair is trying to ignore the fact that in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District Judge Jones found intelligent design to be a religious. specifically a fundamentalist Christian, concept and therefore violated the establishment clause.

  • moarscienceplz

    Sorry, “Senator Fair”. Perhaps I was thinking of The Three Stooges when I wrote that.

    😉

  • John Pieret

    Mike “Fair” (an oxymoron to end all oxymorons!) Gary Glenn and Gordon Klingenschmitt! Their very existence is an argument against “states rights”!

    “Intelligent Design” is an explanation for the cause for specified complexity

    ID is not an “explanation” of anything. An “explanation” is, for example, something like: “the (mostly hydrogen) atoms at the center of the sun are so crushed by the sun’s gravity that they heat up to the point that they begin to fuse together into helium atoms, releasing vast amounts of energy and causing the sun to ‘shine’ (radiate electromagnetic energy).” That explanation was and is so successful that we can use it to create bombs that leave very large holes in the ground and kill a lot of people. In contrast, saying that some “transcendent” designer who has existed from the beginning of time [cough …God] made the sun “shine” is no explanation at all and improves our murderous abilities (as opposed to our murderous instincts) not one wit.

  • a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    OK, so I think we need to counter the theory of “Intelligent Design” with one I’ll call “Stupid Design”. The design of the human back and knee are evidence that whoever gave them to an upright-walking mammal was a fricking imbecile. And designing sickle cell as a defense against malaria–not only an idiot, but also an asshole.

  • Chiroptera

    Dogs are part of the phylum chordata. So are we. So is every animal in the world that has a spine.

    And even more!

    I’ve said this before, if I were to go with some sort of “intelligent design” hypothesis, the actual structure of living organisms remind me of committees of non-omnipotent and non-omniscient designers. Designers who cannot come up with new designs from scratch but, because of limited budgets and limited resources and limited creativity, must rely on modifications of designs that other beings have already used and tested. And committees whose members don’t have the authority to push their own ideas through, but have to compromise among each other and so produce suboptimal designs through consensus.

  • scienceavenger

    Evolution means change and it is observable in that sense. There are big dogs and little dogs but big or little dogs are all still dogs.

    It should be pointed out as often as possible that this is a mere semantic trick, restated with no loss of meaning as:

    “No matter how much the descendants of a pair of dogs changes, I can still call them ‘dogs'”.

    Why yes, yes you can. But what you choose to call things is neither here nor there as far as science is concerned.

  • eric

    Intelligence is effectively banned by the courts …It is hard for me to believe that “intelligence” has been ruled unconstitutional in the public schools!

    In point of fact, hypotheses involving an intelligent cause are not banned by the courts or by science. Probably every day, some archaeolgist finds a sharp rock and asks the question “natural, or hand axe?” Then they proceed to test and select between those hypotheses by various means. Sometimes the evidence favors hand axe, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Intelligent design creationism is effectively banned and has been ruled unconstitutional because, as other posters have already noted, it’s not really a scientific hypothesis at all. It’s an attempt to put God back in schools masquerading as scence, just as creation science did before it.

  • scienceavenger

    In point of fact, hypotheses involving an intelligent cause are not banned by the courts or by science. Probably every day, some archaeolgist finds a sharp rock and asks the question “natural, or hand axe?” Then they proceed to test and select between those hypotheses by various means. Sometimes the evidence favors hand axe, sometimes it doesn’t.

    And adding to this point, where the archaeologist attempts to make the rock-or-axe determination by looking into the nature of the hypothetical designer (human beings in this case), the Intelligent Design adherents expressly forbid this, which is about as unscientific as one can get. No science says “Thou shalt not ask that question”.

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    @ Chiroptera

    “The camel is a horse designed by a committee”. A favorite saying of my parents — I’m not sure where they got it from.

  • Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    The committee that designed jellyfish won the best design contest.

  • rabbitscribe

    “(aside: wouldn’t you love to hear Fair try to explain what “specified complexity” is?)

    After all these years, you still don’t get it? No, we’d mostly hate that. That’s why we’re here: you digest all that folderol so we don’t have to. Division of labor at its finest.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Change occurred but change cannot occur outside the phylum to which dogs belong.

    I think what he means here is not that dogs constitute their own phylum, but that phyla represent fixed limits on change, such that each phylum must have been a separate creation. This has long been an assertion of the ID crowd, tied in with the crap they spew about the Cambrian explosion.

    It is, of course, nonsense, because phyla are artificial categorical constructs. They can be (and are) infinitely split into subphyla or lumped together into superphyla. Where you draw the line around a phylum is arbitrary. So not only is there no reason to believe that phyla can’t have diverged from a common ancestor, it’s not even meaningful to use phyla as some kind of metric of morphological discontinuity.

    Also, Fair almost certainly doesn’t understand the ramifications of his own argument. (He’s obviously just parroting shit he got from the ID folks.) If you concede that evolution can occur within phyla, then you’ve already accepted nearly everything that creationists disbelieve. Not just humans and moneys sharing common ancestors, but all mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, etc.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Webster’s 1828 definition of the Constitution includes these words: “the Christian New Testament is the Moral Law for the United States.”

    I was curious about this, and knowing that at least 90% of the time a conservative Christian quotes an historical figure he gets it wrong, I decided to look it up.

    Happily, you can actually search Webster’s 1828 dictionary directly (though, ironically, that site seems to be run by Christian Nationalists). In the entry for “constitution”, here is where the text occurs:

    6. A system of fundamental principles for the government of rational and social beings.

    The New Testament is the moral constitution of modern society.

    The emphasis is in the original because in that sentence, Webster was providing an example of how the word is used, not giving its definition. Also, that example occurs within a completely different definition of “constitution” than the one referring to a founding document (which is definition #4). And even still, Fair manages to cock-up the quote. The words “Christian”, “law”, “United States” do not occur in the original.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Fair evidently thinks his op-ed will be graded on the basis of how many right-wing clichés he inserts:

    Our system of government is the best in the world … judicial activism… Why should a young person care about character if he is just a random conglomeration of particles which is the essence of Darwin’s gradualism.

    We all are here for a purpose and Darwin’s random causes and gradualism simply do not fit with the facts and discoveries.

    He may deserve a few points for proper spelling, though I suspect the editors may have helped him there. But who will teach them functional punctuation?

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @scienceavenger

    @Area Man

    Indeed. This is a frequent misunderstanding held by supporters of evolution.

    State Senator Mr Jackass is absolutely right that dogs only give birth to dogs. All descendents of dogs will forever remain dogs. In today’s modern phylogenetic cladistics, all descendents of a clade will forever be members of that clade. This is definitional, but it also represents a truth about evolution.

    For example, whales descended from things from four legs. We call that particular group, or clade, tetrapods. Even though they no longer have four (functional) limbs, they are still a member of the tetrapods because of their evident phylogeny. Even if they were to completely lose the limbs and all traces of those limbs, other features would remain which would allow us to properly classify them as tetrapods. Descendents of whales will always be whales. They just might look radically different. That’s the mistake of the creationist.

    When State Senator Mr Jackass says that dogs will only give birth to dogs, he’s operating under the false apprehension that we can partition all animal species into a series of groupings that have zero overlap, cover all animal species, and which cannot be grouped into larger groups. This false idea is often called Biblical kinds.

    What State Senator Mr Jackass really means to say is something like a worm cannot give birth to a dog. That’s simply false. Some of the earliest chordates looked very much like worms, and by a layman’s understanding are worms. However, over time, those worms had kids, who had kids, etc., and some of those kids are today’s dogs.

    The fundamental mistake is not understanding what was discovered by the Christian creationist Linnaeus two hundred plus years ago (and a hundred before Darwin): Animal species can be grouped together by similarities into groups, and those groups can themselves be grouped together by similarities into even larger groups, and so on, until you reach a single group, animalia. When you plot this relationship on a piece of paper, you see a common sight – a branching tree relationship, a family tree.

    A dog will forever be a dog, and a chordate will forever be a chordate, but chordate includes dogs, and a population of worms can eventually evolve and produce a vast range of species, including dogs, cats, people, birds, fish, etc. – all animals.

    PS: Thank you Aronra for explaining this so clearly. I thought I understood evolution, but I did not until I heard that particular talk of yours.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Why should a young person care about character if he is just a random conglomeration of particles which is the essence of Darwin’s gradualism.

    This one always irritates me.

    Why should someone care? The exact same reason he should care if it were otherwise. Because we value living. We value life experience. We value pleasure, enjoyment, contentment, learning (some of us anyway). We value helping the poor and minorities (again some of us anyway).

    It’s exactly the same reason that anyone would go to a movie theatre. The movie is going to end very soon in the future, and after it’s done it has basically no impact on your life. It’s meaningless in the sense of “what does it matter?”, but there are other reasons to value something other than how it might affect the final state of the universe (if any).

  • http://www.facebook.com/eo.raptor.3 eoraptor

    EnlightenmentLiberal @16

    Just to carry the point one step further, Sen. Jackass, and all other creationists, don’t seem to realize that if a dog gave birth to something that wasn’t in essence a dog, it would set the theory of evolution on its ear. That an ancient wolf ultimately gave rise to big dogs and little dogs is the evidence for evolution, not that a wolf, or a dog, might somehow give rise to a cat!

    After Tuesday’s election, I’ve been chastened, but I still want to believe that the majority of Americans understand these distinctions. Thus demonstrating that I’m as much a faithful idiot as the rest — just not about the same thing.

  • dhall

    #9 – Scienceavenger – I’ve often thought that the designer, if such a being exists, is psychotic, actually. After all, it created life supposedly out of love, and yet sets each living thing up for suffering, failure, misery and death, by deliberately creating physical forms that really don’t work so well. A sadistic designer, perhaps.

  • MyPetSlug

    Area Man @14:

    Great find! I was with Ed, thinking who cares about Webster’s opinion on something he had no hand in crafting. But, you remind us that on top of that, we should never take a fundamentalist Christian’s word for granted on any quote, no matter how small.

  • dingojack

    Senator Jackass wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if a dog gave birth to a cat. They are both of the order, Carnivora, a sub-division of the phylum Chordata,

    Dingo

  • petemoulton

    MyPetSlug @ 20: agreed. One of those ten commandments they’re so anxious to put in every public place says “Thou shall not bear false witness,” but apparently lying for jeebus is OK.

  • eric

    @16:

    All descendents of dogs will forever remain dogs. In today’s modern phylogenetic cladistics, all descendents of a clade will forever be members of that clade.

    Most people (including most creationists, like this guy) aren’t referring to a clade when they say “dog.” They mean the species Canis lupus familiaris. So while you’re right, any descendents of the domesticated dog species will remain a member of the canis genus, you are confusing the issue more than you are helping it when you say “all descenants of dogs will remain dogs.” Creationists and most non-creationist laypeople will interpret that as “there can be no speciation.”

    I know its fun to show our academic chops by pointing out the difference between vernacular statements and academic/technical statements, but let’s get real here: the big problem is laymen misunderstanding of how evoluion works and the evidence for it. We should address that misunderstanding by speaking to the layman in language he understands. Sending people down a “mass isn’t weight” rabbit hole is not helpful.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Change occurred but change cannot occur outside the phylum to which dogs belong.

    I think I understand. He must be referring to marriage between people and dogs, which of course is the unavoidable consequence of the legalization of gay marriage. It sounds like he’s for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523300770 stuartsmith

    I have to admit, if I lived in the US, I would be very tempted to run for office as a Republican, just to see how stupid and unpleasant I could get away with being. Like, will people swallow my skepticism about the existence of Sweden? If I argue for putting homeless people in meat grinders, will that make me unelectable? What about if I argue for requiring people on welfare to spend 10 hours a week working on building a 500 meter tall statue of Jesus? Argue for eliminating hospitals in favor of prayer-centers? Just how insane would I have to be in order to put off Republican voters?

  • kantalope

    @25 Other than having to explain where Sweden would be if there was such a thing. So far you’d be a middling RWNJ radio personality.

  • abb3w

    @-1, Mike Fair

    Change occurred but change cannot occur outside the phylum to which dogs belong.

    I suspect he probably meant “baramin” rather than “phylum”.

    Maybe AP biology standards should have something to emphasize that evolution implies that the terms genus, family, order, class, and other higher levels of taxa all correspond to “something that started as a single species, but has since re-diversified sufficiently for additional internal speciation barriers to arise”. (It looks like it would fall in the 1.B or 1.C.2 sections of the 2012-2013 standards, but does not seem to be expressly included.) Contrariwise, that might be too oriented terminologically rather than conceptually for an AP level course.

  • Nick Gotts

    Dogs are part of the phylum chordata. So are we. So is every animal in the world that has a spine.

    So, neither Obama nor most of the Congress Democrats are chordates?

  • caseloweraz

    stuartsmith: I have to admit, if I lived in the US, I would be very tempted to run for office as a Republican, just to see how stupid and unpleasant I could get away with being. Like, will people swallow my skepticism about the existence of Sweden? If I argue for putting homeless people in meat grinders, will that make me unelectable? What about if I argue for requiring people on welfare to spend 10 hours a week working on building a 500 meter tall statue of Jesus? Argue for eliminating hospitals in favor of prayer-centers? Just how insane would I have to be in order to put off Republican voters?

    Judging by recent history, demonstrating sanity is the thing that puts Republican voters off. Like arguing that we should start phasing out fossil fuels so as to get the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere down.