Thursday, May 31, 2007

GOP presidential candidate Sam Brownback weighs into the evolution/creation fray and (mostly) gets it right. It seems clear that he has read YEC literature and doesn't understand the differences and connections between microevolution and macroevolution, but his heart is in the right place. I realize that it is an NYT article and, as much as I despise the newspaper, this was a bit too good to pass up.
The University of Cincinnati goes on the offensive with classes on evolution for local area schools.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

More bad news for Iowa State in a PR Newswire story.
Its open!

Cognitive Dissonance or Intellectual Dishonesty?

The Virginia Pilot has an intriguing story of a man named Marcus Ross who wrote a PhD dissertation at the University of Rhode Island in the subject of geosciences and doesn't believe a word of what he wrote.


Science tells Ross that the Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago in a spectacular supernova explosion. Ross believes God created the Earth in seven days in 4004 B.C., a date many creationists reached by tracing biblical events backward .

The flood, according to Ross, occurred around 2300 B.C. and likely destroyed dinosaurs. He says the impregnation of broken fossils into rocks suggests the bones were slammed by a cataclysmic force of water.

Widely accepted methods of dating fossils may be flawed, according to Ross and other creationists. They say scientists derive dates from carbon-14 and potassium-argon testing based on an unproven assumption that the rate of decay remains constant over time.

The question being asked is whether someone who believes this and writes something entirely different in their dissertation is guilty of intellectual dishonesty or has internalized an almost insurmountable level of cognitive dissonance. How many geologists out there could stand up in front of a classroom and tell the class that the earth was created in 4004 B.C. with a straight face?

"We believe Dr. Ross is doing a tremendous disservice to his students and the public," Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education, a non profit group located in Oakland, Calif., that promotes the teaching of evolution, said in a telephone interview.

Michael Dini, a professor of biology education at Texas Tech University, said Ross should not have been awarded a doctorate. "Anyone who uses religious scripture or theological doctrine as a litmus test to gauge the validity of a scientific theory is no scientist," he wrote in an e-mail. "Is this discrimination? Yes! It's discrimination against bad science."

Dini, in 2003, made news by refusing to write letters of recommendation to graduate schools for students who would not offer a "scientific answer" for how the human race began. Writing recommendations "is a favor I grant only to those I respect," he said.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

...and in the Columbus Dispatch...
And in the Ottawa Citizen...
More on the creationism museum in Kentucky from the Times of London.

Meanwhile, Back in Canada...

The Big Valley Creation Science Museum is set to open its doors in June in Big Valley, Alberta, near the town of Drumheller. As the report in the Calgary Herald notes:

There are no crucifixes, no copies of the Bible and no enlarged quotations from scripture to be seen -- although there is a miniature "replica" of Noah's Ark.

"This is a scientific museum," says founder Harry Nibourg. "This is compelling evidence for a Creator. We're not trying to force this on anybody. We want people to come take a look at it for themselves and make up their own minds."

I guess that is all one can ask.

Not Sure this is a Constitutional Question

Foxnews reports on a petition that is being circulated by the Campaign to Defend the Constitution. The petition itself can be found here. This takes the form of a call for Answers in Genesis, the group that Ken Ham is connected with, to "cease their war on science and we call on educators, media, and citizens to exercise critical thinking", rather than a boycott or any sort of demand to have the museum closed. So, in that sense, it is not anti first amendment. Having said that, it clearly is not a constitutional issue and its placement on their page is somewhat peculiar. It would seem that they are reacting to statements like this by Ken Ham:

"We use the same science they do...What they're really saying is they disagree with our beliefs about history, about the Bible, but we use the same science and genetics they do."

Even if you have had your head in the sand for the last hundred years, you know this simply isn't so. As Henry Morris once said:

"No geological difficulties, real or imagined, can be allowed to take precedence over the clear statements and necessary inferences of Scripture."1

There is clearly a need to interpret palaeogeological and palaeontological data within a scriptural framework. Therefore, creationism proceeds deductively--with a fixed conclusion. This is antithetical to science, which has no fixed conclusions. Ken Ham knows this. His response is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

The problem that I see is that if children go to this museum and believe what they see and hear, and then grow up learning about mainstream scientific approaches to the data, most if not all of them will say to themselves, "what a bunch of hooey!" and reject Christianity altogether. I fear that little good can come of this.

1Biblical Cosmology, page 33

Friday, May 25, 2007

More Bad News from Turkey

This is not encouraging. I am going to have to get my hands on the Atlas of Creation just to see what's in it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Uh oh. The GOP's Achilles' Heel.

It never fails. Whenever there is a general election, the GOP candidate is invariably at some point asked about their "belief" in evolution (as if it were part of a belief structure). Ken Blackwell of Townhall.com has addressed the issue by raising the old false dichotomy of micro versus macroevolution. It is false because processes that operate today can be seen to have operated in the fossil record. He suggests that GOP candidates should answer thus:


“Well, if you mean microevolution, where an organism adapts to its environment with the flexibility inherent in its DNA, then yes I believe in that; we see it every day in nature. But if you mean macroevolution, where mutations stack on one another to create entirely new organ systems and transform one species into a totally different species, then I, along with many scientists, have serious issues with that theory.”



There are several problems with this response. First, it assumes a separate process for macroevolution apart from microevolution, a stance many biologists would oppose. Second, his description of macroevolution is muddled at best and incoherent at worst, and third, his statement that many scientists have serious issues with the theory is flat-out wrong. I have been working in evolutionary biology for 20 years now and I can think of very few field biologists or palaeontologists who doubt the ability of evolution to explain biotic diversity or the fossil record.

He states that a "99% evolved eye is useless." Since when? It is 99% better than nothing. Evolution is not all or nothing. His grasp of the material suggests that he has been only reading Michael Behe and William Dembski, instead of people who work in the field. I would not encourage any GOP candidate to respond like this. I would encourage them to learn what evolution is and what it isn't and respond accordingly. The GOP tends to have an "anti-science" tag hanging around its neck. This kind of response does not help.

More from Kentucky

The Christian Science Monitor has weighed in on the new Creationism museum opening in Petersburg, Kentucky. As the author, Melanie Stetson, notes:

Yet the main mission isn't entertainment; it's presenting a particular "biblical worldview" in which Genesis stands as literal history and true science.

"Genesis gives an account of the history of all basic entities ... from the One who knows everything," [Ken] Ham says. "If you don't know everything, there could always be evidence that will lead to wrong conclusions."

And wrong conclusions is what AiG claims is behind evolution. Dividing science into "observational science" and "historical science," its theme is that the latter is simply interpretation based on one's presuppositions. In one exhibit, for instance, two paleontologists (a creationist and an evolutionist) are digging up a dinosaur skeleton, but they have two different interpretations – one from a perspective of thousands of years and the other, millions of years.

"Fossils don't have labels," Ham says. "You have different interpretations because you have different starting points – one starts with God's Word, one with human reason."

Dismissing the observational/historical dichotomy, Dr. [Eugenie] Scott says "it's nonsense ... Nobody really thinks astronomy, geology, and evolutionary biology ... go about testing their explanations in a way substantially different from other sciences."

I refer you to the Onion's smack-on-the-money take on this argument. A permanent Howler-fest. I may have to make a trip up there when it opens.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Okay. About time for a poll

I suppose I should know what my readers think. Here is a poll.

Do you think evolution explains the fossil record and biotic diversity?
Yes
No
Don't have enough information to answer.
pollcode.com free polls
Thanks.

More on Iowa State

Guillermo Gonzalez was initially one of three astronomers who proposed the "Galactic Habitable Zone" or GHZ. This is a ring around the center of a galaxy where life as we know it can exist and thrive. Here is a graphic taken from http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/G/galactic_habitable_zone.html which shows the zone. Whether or not this dove-tailed into Dr. Gonzalez' ID thoughts, there is nothing squishy about this science.

And on the other side of the universe...

The LA Times reports on the Creationism museum opening in Kentucky. Here is a description:

The 60,000-square-foot museum, near Cincinnati on 49 acres of lush Kentucky countryside, is the work of Answers in Genesis, a leader in the "young Earth" creationist movement. Unlike proponents of "intelligent design" — who question aspects of evolutionary theory but may accept that the universe is billions of years old — members of "young Earth" groups insist that the Book of Genesis is an accurate historical record.

Because the world began only 6,000 years ago, they argue, dinosaurs discovered in the fossil record must have coexisted with humans. In the diorama that greets museum visitors, models of baby tyrannosaurs cavort among animatronic children clad in buckskin.

Devastatingly, the article ends with the following interview with a local pastor:

Michael Jones, pastor of Big Bone Baptist Church, a few miles away, got a sneak peek at the museum early last week, and said he would encourage his flock of 350 to attend often.

His church, he said, is near Big Bone Lick State Park, where scientists discovered remains of wooly [sic] mammoths and mastodons believed to be from the Pleistocene epoch, more than 10,000 years ago.

The bones are on display at a small park museum that Jones has never visited.

"I'm just a simple person," he said, "but I could never believe we came from goo."

And once again, Christians are seen as fools.

More on Iowa State

More on the Iowa State problem here.

This is Bad.

Iowa State faculty have admitted that the decision to deny Guillermo Gonzalez' tenure application was based partly on the fact that he supported Intelligent Design. Noting that an astronomer's "reputatation" was a factor and that by supporting ID, Gonzalez' reputation had been tarnished. This article comes from the Discovery Institute and I have not tracked down the World Magazine article yet.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The ACLU Rears its ugly head

The Beaumont Enterprise reports that the ACLU has filed its fifth religion based lawsuit in 13 years against the same school district. In a nutshell:

The lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of the parents of a fifth-grader at Loranger Middle School in Tangipahoa Parish, who were upset that Gideons Bibles were being given to students on school property during class hours.

"School officials in Tangipahoa Parish habitually show disdain for the Constitution, while disrespecting the right of parents, who happen to be Catholic in this case, to choose the religious tradition in which to raise their children," said Joe Cook, the ACLU executive director for Louisiana.

Given the way that courts have done their level best to legislate religion out of the public schools it is refreshing to see people fight back. On the other hand, if it had been me, I probably would have put them on a table and invited the students to take one if they wanted to. That probably would not have raised the ire of the ACLU, although just about anything does these days.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Probably not what Noah had in mind...

Greepeace is building a replica of Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat in an appeal for action on global warming." The finishing of the ark will be followed by a ceremony at the end of May. Never ones to do anything half-way, a spokesman was quoted as saying:

"Climate change is real, it's happening now and unless world leaders take urgent, decisive and far-reaching action, the next decades will see human misery on a scale not experienced in modern times," said Greenpeace activist Hilal Atici. "Those leaders have a mandate from the people ... to massively cut greenhouse gas emissions and to do it now."

It is difficult for me to see how building an ark on Ararat will help to stop global warming since the wood will have to be trucked up there, causing greenhouse emissions, not to mention those that are created by the ceremony itself. It is kind of interesting that the official term is now "climate change" instead of global warming. As any student of the earth's prehistory knows, climate change is the rule. Oh well.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Neandertals and Climate Change

It is now being suggested that Neandertals died out during a marked shift in the earth's climate, specifically the Iberian peninsula. What makes this climate shift different from those that preceded it is that modern humans were on the landscape and could out-compete the Neandertals, so the story goes. It is clear that there was selection for modern genes and that by 25 000 years ago, Neandertals were a thing of the past but I am still with the hybridization crowd.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Cryogenian Theory on Ice?

The "Snowball Earth" theory has been challenged by new evidence from Oman.

The research team measured the amount of water-induced weathering in sedimentary rocks from Oman.

The results, described in the April issue of Geology magazine, indicate that the Cryogenian climate swung several times between warm-wet and dry-cold, which the authors say is inconsistent with a deep freeze.

"Although [Snowball Earth] is a great idea, I am convinced it didn't happen," [Phillip] Allen said.

Previous work has discovered other problems with the theory, Allen continued.

For example, wave ripples in sandstone from the same period could only have formed in the presence of open water.

There is also no evidence for the big chill causing any mass extinctions.

Ocean-bound microorganisms, which were the dominant life forms back then, "carried on more or less business as usual," Allen said.

I still think the idea is neat, even if it can be demonstrated to be not well supported.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Are Apes People Too?

Foxnews reports of an interesting case in which a case is being made in Viennese court to grant basic human rights to a chimpanzee.

The campaign was launched earlier this year after the animal sanctuary where Hiasl (pronounced HEE-zul) and another chimp, Rosi, have lived for the past 25 years went bankrupt.

Activists want to ensure the two apes don't wind up homeless if the shelter closes. Both have already suffered trauma: They were captured as babies in Sierra Leone in 1982 and smuggled in a crate to Austria for use in experiments at a pharmaceutical research laboratory. Customs officers intercepted the shipment and turned the chimps over to the shelter.

Apparently, this is a growing trend.

Austria isn't the only country where primate rights are being debated. Spain's parliament is considering a bill that would endorse the Great Ape Project, a Seattle-based international initiative to extend "fundamental moral and legal protections" to apes.

It would certainly set an interesting historical precedent.