Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I feel so left out...

... almost like I too have been pre-emptively Expelled - being the only biology faculty member (as far as I know) not to receive a personal invitation to the lecture series by "Don Patton, Ph.D." in my campus mail today!! Where have I gone wrong (or right?) to not get on their mailing list? (And how can I keep it that way?). I'm putting the text of the invitation letters below the fold (and hope the organizers don't mind that because they are encouraging recipients to spread the word), so read on if you are interested. Note that these letters, addressed individually to tenured and tenure-track faculty alike, all of whom have a well-earned Ph.D., invariably address the recipient as "Mr." or Ms." even as they tout "Dr. Don Patton, Ph.D."! Now why would someone do that?


Perhaps the answer lies in the email response my colleague Paul Crosbie received from an elder of the Sun Garden CoC (a different elder from the one who signed those invitation letters) upon asking, politely, why they were associating themselves with someone with dubious academic credentials. I won't quote the whole arrogant email response here, although I can't help but note something. Here's the gist: the elder first invites Paul to challenge Patton with his "obvious vast knowledge of truth", and bring his class along, before predicting that Paul will do neither because "aren't closed academic elitist minds convenient and wonderful?". He then berates Paul for questioning Patton's credentials because "it is a way not to have to listen to anything different than you already believe".


Huh-whaaaa?? Seriously?! Do these people ever read their own writing or look in the mirror? Who is the party claiming to have the "truth" on their side? Who has the closed minds? And who, above all, relies on a single ancient text as a way to not to have to listen to anything different? Really now!! Pot-kettle-black?


As for that invitation letter which came via campus mail (possibly in violation of campus regulations about use of official intra-campus mail channels for promoting private religious functions) read for yourself:

Dear Mr. [or Ms.] not-Madhu-Katti,


Please consider this letter your personal invitation to attend a free series of lectures with question and answer sessions on the broad subject of "Does Planet Earth Reveal a Creator?" The dates for these lectures are April 21-22, 2008, in the Satellite Student Union on the Fresno State University campus, and April 22-25, 2008, in the Rotary Theater on the Bullard High School campus. Each evening's program will begin at 7:00 p.m., include two 30 minute presentations with 15 minute question and answer periods following each, and conclude by 9:00 p.m.


As a person of both science and academe, we believe you will be vitally interested in what the speaker, Dr. Don Patton, of Dallas, Tx, has to say. Dr. Patton has devoted his life to finding and evaluating geologic and archaeological evidences of human history and finds the evidence to present a compelling argument for special creation in contrast to the popular hypothesis that we are a result of evolutionary forces.


We believe you will find this program to be extremely interesting, informative, and conforming to rigorous scientific scrutiny. So, please mark your calendar to join us for as many evenings of this program as you can and add to the program by addressing your comments and questions to Dr. Patton during the question and answer periods.


Sincerely,


Jack Flad


P.S. Feel free to bring other colleagues and your students to these presentations. All are Welcome.


Now how can one turn down an invitation like that? Even if one is not on the list of people getting this official invitation letter? So I'll show up, and ask my class to show up - and hope I don't get Expelled like a more illustrious evilutionist



14 comments:

Kaitlin Crawford April 15, 2008 at 10:16 AM  

Did they really say those things to Dr. Crosbie?! That's really unbelievable! Do you know what sort of evidence Dr. Patton claims to have that supports his dinosaurs-and-humans-coexisted theory?

R. Moore April 15, 2008 at 10:28 AM  

The Central Valley Alliance of Atheists & Skeptics (www.cvaas.org) is also concerned about Mr. Patton's visit to Fresno. The use of CSUF facilities for his presentation is clearly in violation of CSU policies, likewise FUSD policies on the promotion of religion. One would think that Patton's bogus credentials, his claims that science educators are liars, and his laughable evidence for creation as an alternative to evolution would create some outrage in the academic community, but it appears not. CVAAS would like to hand out informational material at the CSUF event, but have been shut out to this point. As an alternative, it would be great if all the CSUF science faculty could encourage their students to queue up early to the event to bias the audience against Patton supporters. I have a feeling that a long series of critical questioning would quickly derail Mr. Patton.

Anonymous April 15, 2008 at 11:01 PM  

I'd like to read the entire email exchange between the two of them. I have a hard time believing the church elder would respond in such a way if Crosbie truly was polite.

R. Moore April 16, 2008 at 8:57 AM  

...I have a hard time believing the church elder would respond in such a way if Crosbie truly was polite.

You obviously have not had the experience I have had of foaming-at-the-mouth personal insults from church folk after politely contradicting their misconceptions about science. Richard Dawkins captured this perfectly in the "Root of All Evil" after amicably being hosted by Ted Haggard at Haggard's church, and then being waylaid by Haggard on his way to the parking lot.

Church elders are often control freaks who are not used to being questioned or having their authority challenged. Dr. Crosbie is probably viewed as a wolf among the sheep.

Madhu April 16, 2008 at 11:12 AM  

Since I was not directly involved in the correspondence between Dr. Crosbie and the church elder, I am not at liberty to post the entire exchange - but what I did post is accurate as far as I know. I have also forwarded anon's comment to Dr. Crosbie and would suggest you get in touch with him directly if you want to know the whole story. And I'll post a follow-up if I get permission to post more from the exchange.

Anonymous April 16, 2008 at 10:16 PM  

You say you're not at liberty to post the exchange. Were you at liberty to post the church elder's comments? Did he give you permission to do that? I don't think what you have done is fair if you only post one side, especially if you didn't have permission.

Madhu April 17, 2008 at 12:40 AM  

I couldn't post what Dr. Crosbie wrote to the church because he did it in the "feedback" form on the church's website, and so doesn't have a copy of the text himself! You can ask him yourself (if you can shed your cloak of anonymity) if he remembers specific details other than what I wrote. Hence the apparent one-sidedness in my reporting of the incident. And note that I paraphrased the elder's comments, not post them in entirety!

Anyway, Dr. Crosbie responded to elder Jarrell's remarks thus:

Dear Mr Jarell,
I am sorry that you feel the need to be somewhat vituperative. I merely attempted to indicate that your speaker has doubtful academic credentials, and that to my knowledge at that time, Bullard High was not a venue. Any reputable and accredited academic institution has a web presence, with clear indication of courses of study, degrees offered, and so on. The institution where Mr. Patton purportedly received his Ph.D. has no footprint on the web at all. Mr. Patton’s on-line CV lacks the precision and clarity that is expected of such a declaration of your life’s work, and is therefore difficult to evaluate. If he were to apply for a faculty position and submit such a document to the College of Science and Mathematics here on campus, we would have to be able to confirm his degrees, and that appears to be impossible. Of course, like any other organization, your group is fully entitled to use a university venue, as we are a public institution – but if your event isn’t sponsored by any on campus group, then it should be clear that your speaker is not endorsed by CSU Fresno, nor should he subsequently claim that he spoke at CSU Fresno. Your use of the SSU is similar to a family booking it for a wedding or a concert being held there, or any one of the other myriad uses of the facility.
Sincerely,
Dr. Paul Crosbie


And the elder's response to this? Two lines (paraphrased here again) basically saying the previous email was an attempt to "egg" Dr. Crosbie on, because "open discussion is the only way" to get to the truth.

I'll let you be the judge of that.

Anonymous April 17, 2008 at 3:01 AM  

Thank you for the additional information. Still can't verify how "politely" Crosbie communicated, but suggesting someone's credentials are "dubious" or "doubtful" and suggesting that the elder wasn't telling the truth about the venue might not be a good way to start a dialog. I can see how the elder would have been on the defense. He's probably very competitive.

At any rate, if Patton's credentials really are questionable and he doesn't know what he's talking about then he should be easy to debate, right? Is Crosbie thinking of debating him?

You know, you're not really going to be in a good position to make a case against him with a couple of questions in a short 15 minute Q & A. You really need to get him in a debate.

Madhu April 17, 2008 at 3:34 AM  

I think a debate is actually a terrible format for any kind of genuine scientific (or other intellectual) discourse, and cannot fathom why Americans love it so much! Must be the "competition" aspect.

Debates are all about scoring rhetorical points, so soundbites dominate over substance. Even though scientists use the word "debate" to refer to arguments over competing hypotheses (for instance), those arguments are never settled through any kind of verbal duel. There is no rhetorical shortcut to actually doing the empirical work to test any given theory. In this context, the real problem is that evolutionary theory has been, and continues to be, subject to the most thorough tests day in and day out; and it has been for the 150 years since Darwin published his book. The opposite is the case with creationism - same old arguments, but no empirical tests one way or the other!

So, no thanks, I don't want to debate Patton, because I doubt I can convince him of anything. I also recognize that he may well be a superior debater - because he's been giving these talks and polishing his message for years, while I've been busy trying to, you know, do some actual empirical science! And I would prefer to continue doing that, and engage in more meaningful conversations about evolution with colleagues, students, and open-minded people outside academia (which is why I started the Central Valley Café Scientifique here in town last fall), than debate someone like Patton.

If you ask me about these talks, the best thing is for all you students to turn out, with your critical thinking caps on, listen carefully to what he has to say, and ask your own thoughtful questions. If there are enough young people in the audience willing to see through his BS, and able to critique his YEC ideas (and that shouldn't be too difficult going by the video clips from the website announcing the event) on their own, that would be a much better outcome for science education on this campus than some old professor trying to debate this guy. We know what they think of us professors anyway, so why give him further opportunities to score soundbites against us?

Steven Miller April 19, 2008 at 10:12 PM  

April 15, 2008 11:01 PM:
'I have a hard time believing the church elder would respond in such a way if Crosbie truly was polite.'
-Anonymous

Why do you have a hard time believing that? Because all Christians are nice people?

April 17, 2008 3:01 AM
-Anonymous

'Thank you for the additional information. Still can't verify how "politely" Crosbie communicated, but suggesting someone's credentials are "dubious" or "doubtful" and suggesting that the elder wasn't telling the truth about the venue might not be a good way to start a dialog.'

You still cannot verify the politeness of communication? I believe there is some proof but ignoring that until a further comment, I am curious why you are surprised that a faculty member attempted to verify credentials. Even during the recent candidate seminars, faculty members here looked up the candidate's past research and de facto identified their credentials. They did not do so out of malice. And on your comment about Dr. Katti being a poor debater during Mr. Patton's talk, I'm not really sure why you felt the personal attack on Dr. Katti was necessary. I can only assume that you somehow feel personally attacked. As such, I would also have to assume, if you feel personally attacked then you must somehow loosely associate with the beliefs of the church representing Patton and Patton himself (i.e. Christian-related beliefs). Coming back to my earlier point, which I left out until now, I find it interesting that you demand evidence of Dr. Crosbie being polite or evidence of how the church responded. Demanding evidence is something a scientist would do; not a person of religion. I agree with Dr. Katti, debating with someone such as Patton, would be completely useless. The speaker might spout of some cool statement such as, "Science can never prove that god doesn't control our daily lives," et cetera, which is true but just as irrelevant as saying science can never prove that the Flying Spagetti Monster (look it up on wikipedia, you might enjoy it) didn't create our universe, control our daily lives, is omniscient, and omnipotent. Perhaps if Patton does suggest some such irrelevant 'point' or 'fact,' then I might give a talk at the satelite student union on 'Pastafarianism and his noodly goodness - the one and only, Flying Spagetti Monster,' signing the abstract of the presentation with, 'Steven Miller, Ph.D. Theology. Invisible Pink Unicorn University.

Anonymous April 20, 2008 at 1:48 AM  

Steven,
I didn't know I had to pick a side to be involved in this discussion.
I think you are infering some things I did not intend to imply, which is probably neither your fault, nor mine, but the nature of the blog world. Be careful. I didn't say I was surprised that Dr. Crosby attempted to verify Dr. Patton's credentials. And I also did not say that Dr. Katti would be a poor debater (I really don't know where you got that impression). In fact, I was hoping that either of the professors would seek a debate in order to have a more in-depth discussion of the evolution v. creation issue. I do agree with Dr. Katti that debates are often won in the minds of hearers with soundbites, but at least both sides of the issues would have an opportunity to be heard at the same time.

No, I don't feel attacked. And if you feel attacked because of what you may have thought I was implying, I hope I have clarified my communication to your satisfaction. It has not been my intention to attack anyone, but to ask for clarity and fairness in communication.

Steven Miller April 20, 2008 at 4:29 PM  

To infer would suggest I am speculating, I am not. People are capable of implying things even in writing. But I am curious, if you do believe that I am simply guessing as to your remark about Dr. Katti, why would your comment to me explicitly say you do not agree with debates but in your previous comment say you want Dr. Katti to get into a debate with Patton. Do those statements not seem somewhat conflicting? If they do it would be because I would have to assume that what was being said did not express the same 'explicit' literal meaning and suggest that there is something 'implicit,' being stated. But, I can only guess that since you did not systemically reply to my previous comment in its entirety, that you will most likely do the same with this comment, which to me, confirms what you said, debating (in this case, with you) - is useless.

Anonymous April 21, 2008 at 12:56 AM  

Hi Steven,
You know, it's rather frustrating trying to have a conversation with you since you continue to misquote what I have explicitly said
("why would your comment to me explicitly say you do not agree with debates"). I will have to agree with you that further conversations between us will be useless. But I will let you have the last word. Please, be my guest.

Steven Miller April 21, 2008 at 10:17 AM  

Ok. Thanks.

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