A couple of serious quick responses to TV…

02 Dec

1. It would be such a good idea if people – especially but not only religious people – knew what science is and how it works

That one came to me after watching the first part of this on SBS:


It’s excellent.

NARRATOR: Lawyers for the parents may have impressed the judge and reporters. But many in Dover wondered, "Why is evolution taught as fact if it’s ‘just a theory?’"

ALAN BONSELL: Maybe Darwinism is the prevalent theory out there today, but it is a theory. It isn’t a law of science. It isn’t, you know, a fact. It is a theory.

BILL BUCKINGHAM: We just wanted alternative views talked about, too. We weren’t, we weren’t saying, "Don’t talk about Darwin." Talk about Darwin, it’s a theory. But that’s what it is, it’s not Darwin’s law, it’s not Darwin’s fact, it’s Darwin’s theory.

ROBERT ESHBACH: To say it’s just a theory is really a bit insulting to science because in science, a theory holds more weight than just a fact does.

KEVIN PADIAN (Dramatization): And here I think the term "theory" needs to be looked at the way scientists consider it. A theory is not just something that we think of in the middle of the night after too much coffee and not enough sleep. That’s an idea. A theory, in science, means a large body of information that’s withstood a lot of testing. It probably consists of a number of different hypotheses and many different lines of evidence. Gravitation is a theory that’s unlikely to be falsified, even if we saw something fall up. It might make us wonder, but we’d try to figure out what was happening rather than immediately just dismiss gravitation.

KEVIN PADIAN: Facts are just the minutiae of science. By themselves, they can be right or wrong. But a theory is something that has been tested and tested over and over again, built on, revised. It continues to be reworked and revised.

ROBERT MUISE (Dramatization): Dr. Miller, would you agree that Darwin’s theory of evolution is not an absolute truth?

KENNETH R. MILLER (Dramatization): Well, I certainly would, for the very simple reason that no theory in science, no theory, is ever regarded as absolute truth. We don’t regard atomic theory as truth. We don’t regard the germ theory of disease as truth. We don’t regard the theory of friction as truth. We regard all of these theories as well-supported, testable explanations that provide natural explanations for natural phenomena.

I don’t mind theological speculation, but I would never call it “science”.

The other thing I took from this program is how glad I am that we do not so far have the US-style tradition of local school boards here in NSW. With all the possible disadvantages we may experience in a centralised system, relying on boards and teams of experts to devise curriculum (even if implementation depends much on the local school), we gain far more, if this series is any indication. There are some things democracy is just not good at, and devising curriculum, in my opinion, is often one of them. By the way, one problem I always felt working in private schools was the sense that the “clients” owned me. That could have a plus side, but was also sometimes an unpleasant constraint. I am sure Aluminium knows exactly what I mean.

Here’s a good blog I have found, or that found me through “possibly related” yesterday: Professor Olsen @ Large. It’s biological. And American.

2. You didn’t really expect Howard, Bush and Blair to say anything new on Iraq, did you?

I refer of course to last night’s episode of The Howard Years: transcript.

FRAN KELLY: John Howard’s enemies were about to be handed more ammunition.

Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction.

The primary justification for the war did not exist.

(Excerpt, Lateline, 22 July 2004)

ABC JOURNALIST: Today the inquiry by former intelligence chief Philip Flood confirmed Australia’s spy agencies got it wrong.

(End of excerpt)

PHILIP FLOOD, INTELLIGENCE INQUIRY HEAD 2004: The intelligence was thin, ambiguous and inaccurate. And Australia shared in a general intelligence failure.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER 1996-2007: Everyone assumed from the Secretary-General of the United Nations downwards, everybody assumed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. That really wasn’t a subject of conjecture. I was very surprised that they weren’t found.

TONY BLAIR, UK PRIME MINISTER 1997-2007: I often think the simplest thing for us should have been in retrospect is just to have published the intelligence assessments, rather than actually the Government compile a report about them, what we should actually have done was just publish them.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER 1996-2007: The intelligence assessments may, in the final analysis, have turned out to be defective because stockpiles of WMD were not found although programs and the capacity to generate stockpiles were certainly found. But we didn’t take the country to war based on a lie. We didn’t invent the intelligence.

FRAN KELLY: John Howard had survived the war in Iraq. His future seemed secure.

Even if we are kind and take all that at face value, it still strikes me as very odd. Why wasn’t anyone taking any notice of what I thought was very persuasive argument at the time? Phyllis Bennis at the Institute for Policy Studies had a primer freely online at the time which was much closer to the truth than the “everybody assumed” of Downer’s selective memory. Then there was Scott Ritter, of course.

His views at that time are well summarized in War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know a 2002 publication which consists largely of an interview between Ritter and anti-war activist William Rivers Pitt. In the interview, Ritter responds to the question of whether he believes Iraq has weapons of mass destruction:

There’s no doubt Iraq hasn’t fully complied with its disarmament obligations as set forth by the Security Council in its resolution. But on the other hand, since 1998 Iraq has been fundamentally disarmed: 90-95% of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capacity has been verifiably eliminated… We have to remember that this missing 5-10% doesn’t necessarily constitute a threat… It constitutes bits and pieces of a weapons program which in its totality doesn’t amount to much, but which is still prohibited… We can’t give Iraq a clean bill of health, therefore we can’t close the book on their weapons of mass destruction. But simultaneously, we can’t reasonably talk about Iraqi non-compliance as representing a de-facto retention of a prohibited capacity worthy of war. (page 28)

We eliminated the nuclear program, and for Iraq to have reconstituted it would require undertaking activities that would have been eminently detectable by intelligence services. (page 32)

If Iraq were producing [chemical] weapons today, we’d have proof, pure and simple. (page 37)

[A]s of December 1998 we had no evidence Iraq had retained biological weapons, nor that they were working on any. In fact, we had a lot of evidence to suggest Iraq was in compliance. (page 46)

I read that 2002 publication and found it quite convincing, and it did after all turn out to be pretty much on the mark, didn’t it? No, Bush just wanted to invade Iraq. Trouble is none of them really had any idea once they actually got there. Now, many gigabucks and heaps of bodies later, it may be that things are a touch better, but what actually has been achieved in relation to terrorism?

I’ll leave that there, but nothing last night came as a revelation – put it that way. Except that Downer is incredibly smug… A perfect yes-man.

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Posted by on December 2, 2008 in America, Australia, Australia and Australian, Christianity, faith, faith and philosophy, History, Iraq, John Howard, memory, terrorism, TV


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