Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Friday, February 17, 2006

A musical muse

I'm well past the stage of keeping up with the musical scene. I still think the Beatles are cool. But occasionally I come across some music that tugs at my existential darkness in a bittersweet way and so I want to introduce you all to Augie March, a Melbourne band of amazing talent. Named after a Saul Bellow novel, The Adventures of Augie March, they're a folkish, rockish sort of band whose lead singer reminds me of lost opportunities and sorrows past.

My favourite song is Very little wonder, which really makes an old 70s existentialist nostalgic. The lyrics alone don't do the song justice, poetic as they are:
Well it's my very little wonder and it's one that I will keep,
But you can take it with you if it helps you when you're trying to sleep...
and the men who are a cut above today are often not so very deep.
Young ladies of means will say "I am, I am, I am, I am, I am",
Sitting on the edges of their seats on the light rail tram,
amongst the could-a-beens, the also-rans -

It's very little wonder if you cry,
It's very little wonder you don't cry,
The birds were framed, the babies were framed, and so too the black sky.

You can't hear the ready laughter in my song,
When I was laughing all day yesterday and all night long,
till we shook off the fears, and had us both in tears,
O brother don't clean out your ears and you might be amazed
to find the secrets of the city in its alley ways,
In the bins behind the swill cafes,
amid the clean-picked chicken bones and cartilage a spirit groans,
a small heart beats and a red beak groans
"O pity, where's my little body gone?"

You'll know why, it's very little wonder you don't cry,
Don't be ashamed of a guilty little rain, and don't be ashamed,
it's just the drink, it's just the drink, it's just the drink.

One marks a place, one makes a time,
One stops a'living, one goes about a'dying...

Somebody blew their brains out in this room,
I can feel it like it happened just this afternoon,
On the wall behind some furniture there's a stain in the shape of Africa,
O fear walks tall, when it's halfway up the hill with its friend alcohol.
I could hear the heavy footsteps in his hollow halls,
Little wonder that he soon devised to rid them all in one great gushing fall,
The billion tiny devil's feet which nightly walked that bloody beat

- Hi ho, ho hum, Get yourself a gun,
Open up your heart and let the bleeders run,
Hi ho, ho hum, Move the thing along,
Open up your heart and let the evening come,
Hi ho, ho hum, Get yourself a gun,
Open up your heart and let the bleeders run,
Hi ho, ho hum, Think about your mum,
Open up your heart and let the evening come darkly in.
You won't get that from Britney Spears.

The band are available from the iTunes store.

Pharyngula strikes a blow against ignorance!

Paul Zachary Myers at his wonderful eloquent polemic best, on why one should know algebra. Almost makes me want to learn it (I blame a totally moronic set of maths teachers - I got algebra, but not calculus, and that's what I miss most).

RU486 Bill passes with a large majority

The Australian federal House of Representatives did something entirely unexpected (to me, anyway) - they represented the Australian public! A vote of 95:50 in favour removed the veto for RU486, the abortifacient drug, of the minister, who at present happens to be a violently anti-abortion Roman Catholic, and gave it to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (our version of the FDA), where it should be.

I expect the Australian government to next be forced to withdraw from Iraq, and to show solidarity with Australian Muslims next. Then the UN will force the US to close Guantanamo Bay...

Sex and evolution

An increasing number of studies appear to support John Maynard Smith's hypothesis that sex is a way of reducing the load of deleterious mutations a species carries. Eureka Science News reports another one, based on the water flea Daphnia pulex. The paper in Science is here and the commentary here.

The authors studied both sexual and asexual lineages in these organisms (a species complex rather than a single species) and found that the asexuals tend to accumulate deleterious mutations faster than the sexual lineages. "The ratio of the rate of amino acid to silent substitution ... in mitochondrial protein-coding genes is higher in obligately asexual lineages than in sexual lineages", they write.

Biodiversity underground

No, it's not a new political movement of Deep Ecology or anything. It's the discovery that there is a gradient of biodiversity in subterranean cave systems across the middle latitudes of the northern hemisphere. The authors consider that the Pleistocene epoch had something to do with it - glacial and other isolating factors caused a major increase in troglodyte speciation.

Figure: Map of species richness patterns of North American troglobionts. Major karst areas of eastern and central United States are shown in light gray. While there are many caves in the western United States and Canada, there are no large karst areas, and no areas of rich fauna. The open triangles are areas with few if any troglobionts, the gray triangle are areas with <50>2 of area or less. The black circle is the diversity hotspot in northeast Alabama. The boundary of the Pleistocene ice sheet is shown as a solid line. A pair of dashed lines indicates the hypothesized position of the high diversity ridge. B. Map of species richness patterns of European troglobionts. The open triangles are areas with few if any troglobionts, the gray triangles are areas with <50>2 of area or less. The black circles are the diversity hotspots in Slovenia and Ariege. Black triangles are other possible diversity hotspots. The boundary of the Pleistocene ice sheet is shown as a scored solid line. A pair of dashed lines indicates the hypothesized position of the high diversity ridge.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cane toad evolution

Hot on the heels of the reports that snakes that prey on frogs and toads are evolving to have smaller jaw gape and a longer body length (and hence intestinal length), as cane toads in the northern region of Australia are toxic, comes a report in Nature that the toads are evolving too. It appears that the toads are travelling further and faster than their ancestors did 40 years ago, when they were introduced. Speed gives the speedy ones an advantage - they have access to "naive" ecosystems, with food availability and mating space that is not heavily crowded.

Their legs are longer, and they have roughly five times the distance cover they had before. But older populations, where this selective advantage is not present, show a decline in leg length. The time since colonisation correlates with this decline. Hate them, or hate them intensely, they are marvellously adaptive.

[Thanks to Julian Lamont for the headsup]

Strawson dies

The Timeonline has a beautifully written and clear obituary of this seminal philosopher, Sir Peter F. Strawson, who died, coincidentally, on Darwin's birthday. Strawson interests me, in particular, because of his 1964 book Individuals, which had the side effect of making individuality a topic of interest to David Hull and Michael Ghiselin, who proposed that species are individuals not classes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Catholic values in the public arena

Cardinal George Pell has entered the RU486 debate with a predictable piece of obfuscation. First, anyone who disagrees with minister Tony Abbot is "not pro-life". This means that if you think a minister should not have discretion to employ his or her own personal values in making what is an administrative decision, they are in favour of abortion. Funny, I thought that this was a debate about allowing the medical profession to make medical decisions. It seems that, according to Pell, this is all about being anti-Catholic. "These sectarian anti-Catholic attacks by parliamentarians and cartoonists are cheap and nasty, revealing a poverty of argumentation and a fear the tide is turning," he said. So we are afraid that we will end up with a Catholic-run society? You bet. The track record of Catholic dominated societies is no better than the track record of any other religion. I don't want to live in a society where I have to follow the moral dictates of a religion I do not practice, nor do I want anyone else to be so forced. Abbott's use of his own religion as policy is deplorable.

According to the Australian,
Dr Pell also warned the Westminster system demanded parliamentary supervision of important moral issues. Rubbish! Parliamentarians are there to supervise the law and represent all their constituents, not just those who happen to be Catholic. And that means that the might of government must never be used to impose moral values. The Westminster system requires that governments follow the will of the electorate; not guide or control it.

If Pell, who often tries to insert Catholic doctrine into public life, sometimes legitimately, sometimes not, wants people to not focus on people's Catholicism, then he should stop making it the issue. The Roman Catholic Church can enforce its moral values on Catholics - that is, after all, what a church is there for in part. But it cannot do so for non-Catholics any more than Islamist imams can enforce Muslim values as they construe them on non-Muslims. Pell and Abbott are reaping what they sow.

And while we are talking about Muslims, how about that blindingly stupid woman Danna Vale? A federal MP declaring that abortion will make us Muslim in 50 years? Hell, it's more likely to make us Catholic, surely. But Muslims are the villains du jour, so let's scare people that way, hey?

John Howard, who I have tended to think of as a relatively decent person, needs to take steps to stop this McCarthyism from getting any worse. When 9/11 happened, he did some good things to show that his government didn't demonise Muslims because of the acts of the Islamists. He needs to do this again, loudly and unequivocally.

Inferring God

The story goes that Dennis Diderot, a famous early atheist, visited the court of Catherine the Great in Russia where he discoursed upon the existence of God. Leonard Euler (who actually invented "Venn diagrams", but that's another story) was there, and apocryphally replied
"(a+bn)/n = x, therefore God exists. Answer!" Diderot was embarrassed and retired back to France. It's a myth, of course, but maths and God are a hard combination to beat.

One of these obfuscations of maths and God is of course the bloviations of William Dembski (who is nothing like an Euler - when real mathematicians take Dembski to task he is left in tatters, but I'm not mathematician enough to comment further). So it comes as a welcome find that a real mathematician has used mathematics to uncover the nature and interests of God from shared observational facts and pure math.

I shall retire to France, then...

[Via Uncertain Principles]

Monday, February 13, 2006


Here, courtesy of Gary Nelson, is an article from the New York Times Magazine [April 30, 1978, p. 17] which just about sums up how I feel now the grant application is in and subject to the whims of fate and contingency. For those too young or foreign to know, David Suskind was a talk show TV host:

Sunday Observer by Russell Baker

Why Being Serious is Hard

Here is a letter of friendly advice. "Be serious," it says. What it means, of course, is, "Be solemn." The distinction between being serious and being solemn seems to be vanishing among Americans, just as surely as the distinction between "now" and "presently" and the distinction between liberty and making a mess.

Being solemn is easy. Being serious is hard. You probably have to be born serious, or at least go through a very interesting childhood. Children almost always begin by being serious, which is what makes them so entertaining when compared to adults as a class.

Adults, on the whole, are solemn. The transition from seriousness to solemnity occurs in adolescence, a period in which Nature, for reasons of her own, plunges people into foolish frivolity. During this period the organism struggles to regain dignity by recovering childhood's genius for seriousness. It is usually a hopeless cause.

As a result, you have to settle for solemnity. Being solemn has almost nothing to do with being serious, but on the other hand, you can't go on being adolescent forever, unless you are in the performing arts, and anyhow most people can't tell the difference. In fact, though Americans talk a great deal about the virtue of being serious, they generally prefer people who are solemn over people who are serious.

In politics, the rare candidate who is serious, like Adlai Stevenson, is easily overwhelmed by one who is solemn, like General Eisenhower. This is probably because it is hard for most people to recognize seriousness, which is rare, especially in politics, but comfortable to endorse solemnity, which is as commonplace as jogging.

Jogging is solemn. Poker is serious. Once you grasp that distinction, you are on your way to enlightenment. To promote the cause, I submit the following list from which the vital distinction should emerge more clearly.

(1) Shakespeare is serious. David Suskind is solemn.
(2) Chicago is serious. California is solemn.
(3) Blow-dry hair stylings on anchor men for local television shows are solemn. Henry James is serious.
(4) Falling in love, getting married, having children, getting divorced and fighting over who gets the car and the Wedgewood are all serious. The new sexual freedom is solemn.
(5) Playboy is solemn. The New Yorker is serious.
(6) S.J. Perelman is serious. Norman Mailer is solemn.
(7) The Roman Empire was solemn. Periclean Athens was serious.
(8) Arguing about "structured programs" of anything is solemn. So are talking about "utilization," attending conferences on the future of anything, and group bathing when undertaken for the purpose of getting to know yourself better, or at the prescription of a swami. Taking a long walk by yourself during which you devise a foolproof scheme for robbing Cartiers is serious.
(9) Washington is solemn. New York is serious. So is Las Vegas, but Miami Beach is solemn.
(10) Humphrey Bogart movies about private eyes and Randolph Scott movies about gunslingers are serious. Modern movies that are sophisticated jokes about Humphrey Bogart movies and Randolph Scott movies are solemn.

Making lists, of course, is solemn, but this is permissible in newspaper columns, because newspaper columns are solemn. They strive, after all, to reach the mass audience, and the mass audience is solemn, which accounts for the absence of seriousness in television, paperback books found in airport bookracks, the public school systems of America, wholesale furniture outlets, shopping centers and American-made automobiles.

I make no apology for being solemn rather than serious. Nor should anyone else. It is the national attitude. It is perfectly understandable. It is hard to be Periclean Athens. It is hard to be Shakespeare. It is hard to be S.J. Perelman. It is hard to be serious.

And yet, one cannot go on toward eternity without some flimsy attempt at dignity. Adolescence will not do. One must at least make the effort to resume childhood's lost seriousness, and so, with the best of intentions, one tries his best, only to end up being vastly, uninterestingly solemn.

Writing sentences that use "One" as a pronoun is solemn. Making pronouncements on American society is solemn. Turning yourself off when pronouncements threaten to gush is not exactly serious, although it shows a shred of wisdom.
Next time someone says "be serious", though, remember that it is a solemn obligation.

Happy Birthday Darwin

Down under it's the day after, so I'm sure Dr (he got one late in life honoris causa) Darwin has a bad headache by now, but let me join the chorus of 197th birthday wellwishers:

A polite creationist and a polite reply

I recently received a surprisingly polite and well-presented argument against a post about the attack on Professor Mirecki on this blog from a creationist. I say "surprisingly" because like many pro-evolution bloggers, most of the creationist mail I get is hate mail, without the merest attempt to deal with the issues at hand in a rational manner. Most of them end up in my bitbucket, but when you get something that is actually worth responding to, you must, just to how that not all creationists are slathering fools.

Actually, I never thought that. Most creationists are ordinary decent people who have accepted what their authorities have told them. The general run of people don't have the time or inclination to follow through what looks like technical issues. Life always intervenes. But Mr Steven Dapra has tried. I owe him a response. Here it is. My comments in his quoted email (reproduced with his approval), are in small type.
Dear Dr. Wilkins:

I am writing about your comments at: <Evolving Thoughts post>. I found this link by reading the TalkOrigins feedback for December 2005.

You were commenting on the case of someone beating up Professor Mirecki. Has anyone considered the possibility that this criminal act was perpetrated by some drunken and unruly free-lance thugs who were out to cause a little mischief? I think that is as plausible an explanation as any. If the authorities have investigated this, I do not know what they concluded, if anything. I am offering this explanation as sheer speculation.
Yes, I considered this. But in the initial report, Mirecki said that one of them mentioned his email and the ID issue. This makes it unlikely to be a random act of thuggery. Of course, if he is lying, then all bets are off, but so far I have no reason to think that. But there has been no public followup to the police investigation of which I am aware.
I have copied three of the numbered comments in your blog, and would like to make some comments of my own. To get the context, I copied the entire point, not merely the sentence or phrase I wished to address.

2. Mirecki's email was obnoxious, but in no way unjustified or immoral or contrary to decent ethical standards. Religious people make much worse comments about "godless atheists" every day, and in America, they (and he) have that right constitutionally. The apology ought to have been enough to settle this, in a civilised nation. And it was in a private forum. He didn't broadcast it to the nation, Altevogt did. Is it a surprise that Mirecki thinks fundamentalists are often stupid bastards? I do, and many others, a lot of whom are Christians of a more reasonable kind, also do. So what is at issue? That he said to those he had a reasonable expectation shared those values what he thought? Bad man! Bad bad man!


Yes, it was obnoxious. What if a creationist had sent out an e-mail expressing similar sentiments about ‘monkey-descended so-and-so’s’? Would such a hypothetical e-mail also have not been “contrary to decent ethical standards”?

I agree with you about the “private forum” and the 'not broadcasting it' part. When Mirecki wrote that thing wasn’t he a “public servant”? Was he doing this on university time? That is, was he being paid by all taxpayers to vilify some taxpayers?

In case you are wondering, I happen to be a creationist and I will be glad to tell you (and anyone who will listen) that some of my fellow creationists are pretty lame. (I prefer not to use bad words, if you will pardon me for that.)
Creationists not only do send out such emails, they make public comments of that kind. They appear to think, in my experience, that being "right" means ordinary ethical standards do not apply to them. As I said above, I get hate mail all the time from creationists, and I'm halfway around the world from the US. My friend Paul Myers, and others, all get very nasty emails sent to them, and about them.

Academics are not paid by taxpayers, in your country or mine, to simply be nice quiet little mice. They are paid to think, research and teach about issues, ranging from economic and psychological to social and scientific. They are thus enabled to contribute to social discourse as they see fit (if they are tenured and funded).

They are not servants of the public. They are servants of the topic they study. And no public authority has the right to prevent them from studying, teaching or addressing their issues, subject to breaking laws or harming others directly. This works well enough to permit academic research to continue. If a lawmaker doesn't like it, the appropriate response is not to threaten to remove the person or course, but to address the matter in the academic domain. Anything else is bullying and demagoguery.
3. Mirecki has academic freedom, or ought to, to teach what he wants without interference from lobby groups or the majority. His peers - those who are professionals in his discipline - are the ones who are fit to judge his actions; not some politician or religious opponent. Threatening the freedom of academics by withholding funding is the reason why universities got out from under church control in the first place.


Don’t creationists or ID proponents also have academic freedom to teach what they want to without interference from lobby groups, politicians, or religious opponents; or from noisy well-funded left-wing extremist groups such as the ACLU or the NCSE?

What is your definition of “academic freedom”? Is it ‘your right to force people to pay taxes to hire teachers to teach students ideas the taxpayer(s) don’t believe it?’ Isn’t that similar to Stalin forcing Soviet citizens to pay taxes to hire Lysenko? In another of your linked articles (Inside Higher Ed.), John Hoopes, an associate professor of anthropology is alluded to as follows: "Hoopes said he was very concerned about the idea that university officials were reviewing Mirecki's course because of his posting to a listserv. 'I feel that the university should be very cautious about reviewing the content of any courses,' he said. "Academic freedom should assure the freedom of any faculty member to teach what they want to teach." What about the freedom of Dean Kenyon to teach whatever he wanted to teach? I'll bet Hoopes could give you an earful about how Kenyon should have been forced from his position. (I imagine you are familiar with Kenyon's case, so I will not go into detail. You can search either TalkOrigins.org, or http://www.natcenscied.org/.) There was no academic freedom for "faculty member" Kenyon to "teach what [he] want[ed] to teach."
Nobody is preventing ID advocates from presenting their ideas into the academic domain. Indeed, in my opinion it gets way more attention than it deserves. A while back I presented a paper at a conference on Dembski's "explanatory filter" (see the paper here, or here, coauthored with Wesley Elsberry). One of the comments made in the Q&A was "how sad that we still have to be discussing this in the 21st century", with which I agree. But the ideas are out there and nobody is stopping them from putting it out. Particularly not since they have way more public relations and advertising funding than do the equivalent bodies aimed at presenting evolution. The NCSE you mention here gets a fraction of the funding from donations that the Discovery Institute gets. It is not "well-funded". And the ACLU is a group that is also not publicly funded so much - the cases it has brought with regards to evolution have been done by lawyers pro bono, and for issues of teachhing science in publicly funded schools, not universities.

I am not familiar with the details of the Kenyon case, but the TalkOrigins page I presume you are referring to doesn't say he lost any academic job because he taught creationism. But suppose he or someone else did?

An academic is employed, in part, to teach the state of the subject, not the subject as some noisy minority wants to to be taught for reasons that have nothing to do with the topic or discipline. If you are employed to teach science, then substituting religion for science is grounds for dismisal (or at any rate non-renewal of contract). You are not doing what you are employed to do.

So what counts as the science one should teach? Well, the basic principle of science is that it is what we develop based on the data, as investigated by the experts of the discipline. If, and only if, those people find that the data supports creationism, or at the very least it becomes a viable hypothesis in the field, neither of which is true, can someone teach creation in a science class. So if I converted tomorrow and taught in a philosophy of science class (which is my field) that creation was a viable theory in biology, it would happen that I would not be allowed to teach that subject, as I would have shwn myself to be incompetent in the field. Eventually, when my contract is up, I would expect that I would not find a new position.

Academic science has standards, and these are set by the best researchers in the field concerned. None of them are creationists in the relevant sense. So teaching creationism in a university science course as anything but an antiscience political and religious movement would be to teach something other than science.

The Lysenko affair is actually a very good example of what happens when politics interferes in science. If the science goes a direction that a politician finds objectionable, too bad. Science, not politics, is lead by data. No democratic government mandates that evolution should be taught. They mandate that science should be taught. Science mandates that evolution should be taught because it is good science.
With respect to"witholding funding," on your blog you wrote: "One of the conservative politicians of that state threatened to remove funding from the department (no doubt the reason why he stepped down). She also said that Mirecki, who has a doctorate in theology from Harvard, hates Christians. Of course he does. That's why he is a Christian himself..."

Your assertion about a threat to "remove funding from the department" is false. The linked article [in the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World], was referring to a 1993 incident, and said, "Dennis Dailey, professor emeritus in KU's School of Social Welfare, said he recently sent e-mails to Mirecki and Hoopes.

"My opening line was: 'Welcome to the fray,' "Dailey said.

"As Dailey watches the current controversy, he sees a battle similar to the one that enveloped him and his human sexuality course in 2003.

"Dailey's course on human sexuality spurred State Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, to voice her concerns on the floor of the Kansas Senate and to take aim at KU's funding. An amendment, proposed by Wagle, to cut funding to the KU School of Social Welfare ultimately was vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius."

Although it is true that a funding revocation was proposed, it happened in 2003, and NOT in 2005, and NOT pertaining to anything about Intelligent Design.

I request that you make an acknowledgement of error, and place a correction in your blog.
The link I gave did not, as you show, link to what I thought it did. But it is true that one lawmaker in Kansas, Kay O'Connor, made a not-so-veiled threat in response to Mirecki's email to reduce funding:

Meanwhile, critics questioned the use of tax dollars on the course. State Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, called for Mirecki and Hemenway to appear before state lawmakers to answer questions about the course.

Sen. Kay O’Connor, R-Olathe, last week responded to the e-mail: “He wants me to say ‘thank you’ by giving more money. Who is the ignoramus here?”

Why should an academic need to come before a funding committee of the government to justify a course? This is pure intimidation.
Are suggesting that having a doctorate in theology (from anywhere) makes someone a Christian? If so, what is your basis for believing this?
Well, it's inference on my part from the comments about Mirecki that he attends a church. Perhaps he does so for sociological reasons, but having a PhD in Theology, rather than comparative religions or religious studies, implies a commitment to the subject. I had to withdraw from theological studies myself when I lost my faith.
In your blog you also said, "Sen. Kay O'Connor, Republican of course, says that there needs to be a standard in the US that prohibits criticism of Christianity..."
O'Connor says nothing of this nature in the Lawrence Journal-World article. What is your reason or primary source material for attributing this sentiment to O'Connor? (Nothing I have said here should be construed as in any way defending KS State Senator Kay O'Connor. I know nothing about her.)
I can't recall where I saw that, but a quick Google gives this from Karin Brownlee, another Republican State Senator:
"We have to set a standard that it's not culturally acceptable to mock Christianity in America," she said.
It appears I confused the two. From this distance, one Republican neo-conservative politician looks very like another.
5. There is no "persecution" of Christians going on in America. Christians form something like 90% of the population - they control or affect public life in every way. What is going on there, in this case as in others, is that they oppose any dissent from what they think the world ought to be like. They are the persecutors, not Mirecki, not SOMA. Altevogt, O'Connor and their ilk are the ones who are being anti-American.

And they will win so long as the religious right controls the social instruments of government, media, and law.


That depends on how one defines “persecution.” According to Webster, to persecute means, “to harass in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; [specifically] to cause to suffer because of belief.” “To annoy with persistent or urgent approaches (as attacks, pleas, or importunities).” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1974)

Would you say it is plausible that Mirecki meant (“designed”) his e-mail to grieve some person or persons? Naturally I can’t assess his state of mind or his intent. I am certain he annoyed some creationists with his approach. Was that an act of persecution? What do you think?

What is the source of your claim that Christians form something like 90% of the population? Equally to the point, what is your definition of “Christian”?
I do not think that a private comment made in private email to a private group constitutes persecution. But eavesdropping on that sort of private communication in order to publicly denigrate someone certainly sounds like it.

As to the percentage of Americans who are Christian, I picked a figure. So let's go looking at actual census data: of 207.98 million Americans, 159.5 million describe themselves as Christian. OK, so it's around 76.6% of Americans (29.4 million, or around 14% have no religion). But of those who attend church regularly, 47.4% of the population are religious (according to table 69). Take whatever statistic you like, Christians are not the minority. Agnostics and atheists certainly are.
Permit me to inform you that the “religious right” does not control government, media, and law. Creationists are vilified somewhere every day in the secular press, and in a lot of the “religious” press too, for that matter. And controlling law?? That’s a laugh. Have you ever heard of Kitzmiller v Dover? Now there is a prime example of creationists (or, in this instance, ID proponents) controlling law.
The religious right does indeed have influence over the media and the law that it should not really have. The present administration and way too much of the Republican party have kowtowed to it for decades. American media is very biased in favour of the religious right, to the point that the venerable term "liberal" means something like "traitor". The only source of information in the mainstream media (i.e., excluding NPR and so on) of which I have been made aware that is reliable is The Daily Show. Or rather, Jon Stewart. He made a very good point when publicising his last book, when attacked by media pundits - why aren't you guys doing this? I'm a comedian, he said. My show follows puppets making crank calls. So why should it be me who has to call the emperor for his lack of clothing?

American media is so biased so broadly you can't see the wood for the trees. Media in my own country fares only slightly better.

Kitzmiller was a wonderful outcome - an independent judge (who shortly afterwards was informed in public that he had better not expect a promotion, from a ranking government official) who had never the less been appointed by BushII. I am not surprised there are men of principle amongst conservatives. I am pleased to see an example of it.
Since you are a self-described postdoctoral research fellow, I am confident you consider yourself to be an academic or a scholar, or both, so I look forward to receiving a reply that takes an academic or scholarly approach (such as the primary source material for your “90%” claim, and the one about O'Connor wanting to prohibit criticism of Christianity.

Sincerely yours,

Steven Dapra
Both claims were misattributed. Neither changes the argument. This is a blog, something I do between real work. I am sometimes sloppy. That is not an excuse, but an explanation.

I appreciate your civility, Steven. I hope I have replied accordingly.