Tuesday, August 29, 2017

#1889: Lane Lester

We’ll skip Lillie Leonardi – things like this wouldn’t have merited an entry had she not written a book about it, pushed by WND, but even though she did I think we’re all best served by skipping her.

Lane Lester is a Professor of Biology at Emmanuel Missionary College (or, as it is currently known, Andrew University), Georgia – a small, extremist, Pentecostal college that offers non-accredited “education” – and Regional Representative of the Institute for Creation Research. Lester calls himself a “creationist geneticist”, though we have been unable to locate any real research from his hand – instead, Lester appears to write textbooks and articles for non-specialists in various creationist magazines, the purpose of which is outreach, not research, insofar as the goal of creationist “scientists” is, always, to broadcast their ideas and ensnare souls for Jesus, not to actually try to scientifically test their ideas. Now Lester does, indeed, have a real education. That doesn’t make him a scientist, of course, but it does make him qualified to sign various creationist petitions, such as the Discovery Institute’s petition A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism and the CMI list of scientists alive today who accept the biblical account of creation.

Diagnosis: Scientists are people who do science. Lester is not a scientist, and any attempt to make it look like he is can be safely dismissed. Lunatic fundie, is what he is. Limited impact, but students do attend his sorry excuse for an educational institution, and doing so is probably not free.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

#1888: Bryan Leonard

Bryan Leonard is one of the alleged martyrs featured in the creationist movements dishonest “academic freedom” campaigns, people having been the victim of what Intelligent Design creationists would describe as oppression by the Darwinist establishment (i.e. actual scientists with actual expertise and a commitment to science). A more comprehensive description of the so-called Bryan Leonard affair can be found here. We’ll just provide a brief recap:

Leonard was (or perhaps is) a high school biology teacher at Hilliard Davidson High School in a suburb of Columbus (yes, he was teaching the controversy and promoting creationism to the high-school kids; surprised?), and – a decade ago – an appointee to the Ohio State BOE’s model curriculum-writing committee, where he authored the creationist-friendly “Critical Analysis” model lesson plan adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education in 2004. Leonard also testified for the pseudoscience side at the Kansas Creationist Kangaroo Court hearings (excerpts from his testimony here). Leonard himself appears to be a young-earth creationist.

Now, by 2005 Leonard was also a doctoral candidate in science education at Ohio State University, doing dissertation research on the academic merits of an ID-based “critical analysis” approach to teaching evolution in public schools. Scheduled to defend on June 6, the defense was suddenly postponed to the shock and horror of conspiracy theorists and pseudoscientists everywhere. And of course, in real life the postponement was due to the questionable tactics and strategy of the creationists, in particular the composition of Leonard’s committee. You see, the OSU requires that the committee must reflect the expertise needed for the dissertation and must have at least three members: two from the science education program area and one from outside the science education program area. Leonard’s final dissertation committee did not meet those requirements – in particular, it contained no member from the science education program area – and one suspects this was because his advisor, Paul Post, realized that it would not pass if they included, you know, actual experts on biology on the committee. Instead, the committee included, in addition to an assistant professor in French & Italian, Glen R. Needham of the Department of Entomology and Robert DiSilvestro of the Department of Human Nutrition, both of whom have track-records as champions of creationism and pseudoscience – both are signatories to the Discovery Institute’s petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, for instance, and DiSilvestro, surely coincidentally, also testified for the anti-science side at the Kansas evolution hearings. (He was also at that time contact person for the Ohio Intelligent Design Movement’s 52 Ohio Scientists Call for Academic Freedom on Darwin’s Theory petition; and Needham was a signatory). Leonard’s advisor Paul Post has no relevant qualifications to comment on evolution either.

So, when members of the faculty of the OSU brought these and other anomalies to the attention of appropriate administrators in the Graduate School, the assistant professor of French & Italian asked to be relieved and was replaced by the Dean of the College of Biological Sciences who was an evolutionary biologist. At that time, the defense was suddenly postponed, apparently at the request of Leonard’s advisor; it was never rescheduled. And note: It was Leonard’s advisor who asked for the postponement, after it became clear that he wouldn’t be allowed to violate the guidelines in his attempt to fix the jury in Leonard’s favor (which rather strongly suggests that the creationists on the committee had little confidence in the actual merits of Leonard’s pro-creationist thesis). The pattern of behavior from the Intelligent Design community is rather striking – even if Leonard’s thesis were perfectly OK, the attempt of the Intelligent Design community to subvert the process is telling, isn’t it? Being caught in the act, the Intelligent Design community responded by claiming “violation of academic freedom”, of course. Indeed, a decade later the case remains one of their go-to examples of howChristians are oppressed in academia.

Diagnosis: We haven’t heard much from Leonard since 2005, but the Bryan Leonard case is occasionally revived by pseudoscientists who aren’t that concerned with what actually happened. Now, one can reasonably argue that Leonard was, indeed, a victim in that particular case – a victim of the shenanigans of established creationists, of course – but his activities on the Ohio State BOE’s model curriculum-writing committee and role in the Kansas Kangaroo court hearings still qualify him for an entry in our Encyclopedia.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

#1887: Peter Leithart

Peter Leithart is a theocrat and president of Theopolis Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, & Cultural Studies in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also the author of numerous books, some coauthored with George Grant or Gary DeMar, including a series of children’s bedtime stories that we haven’t read but nevertheless recommend that parents who wish to raise wholesome, good and wise kids avoid with a passion. Taking a cue from Islamic fundamentalists – reconstructionists like Leithart tend to harbor a certain envy for radical jihadists – Leithart has presented “American Christians with a call to martyrdom,” in particular as a response to the legality of abortion and gay marriage: “Throughout Scripture,” Leithart says (in his book Between Babel and Beast), “the only power that can overcome the seemingly invincible omnipotence of a Babel or a Beast is the power of martyrdom, the power of the witness to King Jesus to the point of loss and death.” At least Leithart, as opposed to some dominionist, recognizes that the type of hatred and bigotry he would prefer be the law is neither popular nor embedded in the Constitution: “To be faithful, Christian witness must be witness against America.” How Leithart’s claims are relevantly different from a Taliban video is less clear, insofar as Leithart is explicitly and repeatedly calling for Christians to seek martyrdom in combat against America and its values.

It is probably not even worth mentioning that Leithart is a young-earth creationism; indeed, he doesn’t even seem to bother with the science: any semblance of criticism of a literary reading of the Bible from science or history is for Leithart entirely beside the point.

Diagnosis: He does his best to make himself ideologically indistinguishable from the most delusionally rabid Taliban jihadists – and he seems to have a number of followers (David Lane, for instance). Dangerous.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

#1886: Noson Leiter

More from the fuming, delusional hatred department. Noson Leiter, of the rather unappealingly named Torah Jews for Decency, is apparently one of the Religious Right’s favorite rabbis, and has appeared at Tea Party conferences along with luminaries like Rick Scarborough. Leiter rose to a modicum of fame when he blamed Hurricane Sandy on New York’s marriage equality law. He was, of course, not the only dingbat to do so, but might have been the only one to point out the appearance of a double rainbow after the storm as evidence that Hurricane Sandy was a sequel to the Flood (which God, according to the Bible, explicitly promised never to do again). Leiter had previously worked with Liberty Counsel and New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms in an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn said law. Not everyone was impressed with Leiter’s observations.

Leiter has also asserted that the “end game” of the gay rights movement is “child molestation.” (No, he has no decency, which is presumably why he feels the need to put “decency” in the name of his organization.) “They are after our kids,” says Leiter; “they are after the bibles and guns that Americans cling to but they are also after us and after our kids.” He also warned that gay rights advocates “will not rest until all of their opposition is totally eliminated,” but fortunately assured us that they will ultimately lose, because “the Lord will vanquish evil.” Apparently, this is a recurring theme; also in connection with blaiming Hurricane Sandy on the gays, Leiter said that the “LGBT radical homosexualist movement” will increase child abuse by giving molesters a “license to victimize” children and even “a certain degree of diplomatic immunity.”

Here is Leiter in 2013 warning then-Senate candidate Tom Price about the “tremendous medical health impact and economic impact” of the “homosexual agenda” and asking him (Price) whether Congress will consider studying the “fiscal impact” that “promoting such a lifestyle will result in.” Leiter’s general point was ostensibly (but not really) that any bill involving social issues should require a study of the “fiscal impact” the legislation would have. Price agreed, of course.

Diagnosis: Hate, hate and more hate, fuelled by fanatic delusions. Same as always.