Monday, July 30, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pope Benedict Accepts Evolutionary Theory

Pope Benedict XVI comes through in the clutch!! He managed to get right what Ken Ham and all the other YECs persistently don't:

"This contrast [between evolution and God] is an absurdity, because there are many scientific tests in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and enriches our understanding of life and being.

"But the doctrine of evolution does not answer all questions, and it does not answer above all the great philosophical question: From where does everything come?"

I knew he had it in him.
Okay, I have never been that fond of the Geico caveman ads simply because I thought they were silly (although the one with the cheesy airport music was kind of funny). But this is ridiculous. A caveman show with racist undertones? Give me a break. Who are they supposed to be slamming? Palaeoanthropologists?
William Dembski says there is new ID research that will bring its credibility up. The interview begins:

CA: Dr. Dembski, ID has come a very long way since its inception; and ID proponents are making inroads in a vast array of scientific disciplines such as astronomy, biology, and chemistry. How has your own work in mathematics (namely, The Design Inference and No Free Lunch) helped or influenced the development of novel ways of doing science?

Here come the softballs!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology weighs in on the creation museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. This paragraph says it best:

"Ken Ham is not recognized as a scientist or educator among experts in the fields of geology and paleontology, and his views on the interpretation of Biblical texts are extremist. Visitors to his ‘museum’ may arrive knowing little about these sciences, but they will leave misled and intellectually deceived,” said Dr. Kevin Padian, professor and curator, University of California, Berkeley and president of the National Center for Science Education.

I need to get up there.
Jeff Jacoby, a regular for National Review, tackles ID in a Boston Globe column. You have to read down a bit to get to the punch line.
Even Starbucks is getting into the act. People need to get over their fear of religion or develop some thicker skin.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Another slow day. The whole family is sick. Here is another picture of the inlet. I got this picture a bit better.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Josh Wingrove reports in the Edmonton Journal that just down the road from the Canadian creationism museum in Big Valley, Dinotour, a guided tour by Phil Currie through the Alberta Badlands, one of the best dinosaur hunting grounds in the world, took place.
The Scopes Trial recreation is going on this weekend, with shows Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Death Knell of the Multiregional Hypothesis? An article in the Independent reports on a study by Manica et al. that finds a recent African ancestry for all modern humans using both genetic and morphometric evidence. I will find out what the Nature article says.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Glenn Reynolds points out a NYT article on the rise of Islamic Creationism.
"Darwinism at AEI" is the title of an article that appears in the American Spectator, which can be accessed here at the Discovery Institute's site. The article gets so many things wrong, it is hard to know where to start. The author, Tom Bethell is a regular contributor to both the American Spectator and the National Review and is a Washington Correspondent--in other words, perfectly qualified to talk about "Darwinism." He writes"

Darwinism is best seen as 19th century philosophy—materialism—dressed up as science, and directed against a theological argument for the existence of God.

Oh? And what exactly is "Darwinism?" He never says. If you are going to take pot shots at something, you ought to at least define it for your audience. One thing he does get right, but for the wrong reasons is that "Darwinism" lends itself to no particular philosophical stance:

The truth is that Darwinism is so shapeless that it can be enlisted in support of any cause whatsoever. Steven Hayward, a resident scholar at AEI, made this clear in his admirable introduction. Darwinism has over the years been championed by eugenicists, social Darwinists, racialists, free-market economists, liberals galore, Wilsonian progressives and National Socialists, to give only a partial list. Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer, Communists and libertarians, and almost anyone in between, have at times found Darwinism to their liking. Spencer himself first used the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and Darwin thought it an “admirable” summation of his thesis.

The truth is that evolutionary theory is not shapeless at all but has very concrete processes that can be identified, observed and predicted. If Mr. Bethell did any work in the natural sciences, he would know this. He continues:

The underlying problem is that a key Darwinian term is not defined. Darwinism supposedly explains how organisms become more “fit,” or better adapted to their environment. But fitness is not and cannot be defined except in terms of existence. If an animal exists, it is “fit” (otherwise it wouldn’t exist).

This is patently silly. Traits are either selected for or against in any given population. We see that from generation to generation in the fluctuation of gene frequencies. That is what evolution is. Over time, genes (which code for how an animal is going to look) either increase in a population or are selected out. Those genes change how an animal is going to look and are directly affected by the environment. This is simply extrapolated to the fossil record. Based on what we know of how observable species change, we predict what should be seen in the fossil record. If we do, the hypothesis is right. If not, the hypothesis is wrong and we go back to the drawing board.

About ID, he says:

Intelligent Design is not like that. It is aggressive and therefore potentially dangerous. It says to the Darwinians: “You don’t have the evidence to support your claims. Your lab results and fossils don’t support your theory. Organisms are way too complex to have arisen by chance. Take all the time you want, it won’t be enough. Even though we don’t know how it happened, these critters must have been designed somehow.”

THAT'S JUST IT! Intelligent Design supporters don't know how it happened. Furthermore, without a mechanism, they will NEVER know how it happened. That is why ID is not science and why it should not be confused as such. He claims that ID is informed by science, not religion and that is why it has made scientists angry. That is not why it has made scientists angry. It has made them angry PRECISELY because it isn't science. It has no methods, no models and no hypotheses. It only has an untestable theory. I'm sorry but even if you could show that my model is wrong, it doesn't make your model right.

Friday, July 13, 2007

There is a new book out called The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man, which chronicles the history of the priest's palaeontological travels as they pertain to the discovery of the remains of Homo erectus at Zhoukoudian. He had an odd theology, especially for a Jesuit, and was once implicated as having perpetrated the Piltdown hoax. As my father remarked, however, this is not likely. "He was a singularly humourless man." It ought to be an interesting read.

I am not reading much these days. I have a long overdue eye appointment next week to take care of this problem. After that, I have a lot of things to catch up on.
Lucy is now creating controversy of a different sort.
According to Salon.com, the "American Taliban" has targeted evolution. According to the article, there is more at Panda's Thumb. Of course the American Taliban, in this case, is a group of misguided Christians. After reading the emails, though, I tend to (in one of the rare instances) agree with the Discover Institute that the emails are hoaxes. I know A LOT of Christians and none of them are this thick.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

New Hominid Discoveries in the Afar Triangle

There have been some new discoveries in the Afar region of Africa that fill the gap between A. anamensis and A. afarensis. This is great news. The story, from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is long but worth the read. This is the fun part:

The fossil hominids from the Woranso-Mille area sample a time period that is poorly known in human evolutionary studies. An outstanding question in the study of early human evolution, says Haile-Selassie, relates to the relationship between the earlier Australopithecus anamensis (4.2 - 3.9 million years) and the later Australopithecus afarensis (3 - 3.6 million years). Researchers have hypothesized an ancestor-descendant relationship between these two species based on their similarities. However, there has been no fossil record from the 3.6 - 3.9 million years time frame thus far to test, confirm, or falsify this relationship. Haile-Selassie adds that the fossil hominids from the Woranso-Mille study area dated to between 3.5 and 3.8 million years ago sample the right time and play a major role in testing the hypothesis with fossil data. The Woranso-Mille fossil hominids from the deposits younger than 3.5 million years extend the geographic distribution of Australopithecus afarensis further to the north of Hadar, where the species is best documented.

Hopefully, these specimens (40 so far) will give us some much needed information about this time period. This is a great example of hypothesis testing using predictive models. It is also a great test of evolutionary theory. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Here are two sides of the same coin: EvoWiki and CreationWiki. As with any wiki, be careful about what you read and follow up on the resources and cited references.
Mark Isaak edits a huge list of rebuttals to creationist claims on the Talk Origins site. Some are more successful than others. Here is the list.
A (relatively) new post on why Michael Behe's Irreducible Complexity is a wash.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Slow news day so far. As I wrote a bit back, I now work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This is a picture of the drive in. Not a bit like the spaghetti junction that is I-40. Clicking on the picture will pull up a bigger image. I got the water a bit wrong on the middle image because I forgot to hold down the auto exposure lock button. Oh well.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A new study suggests something that I have always thought to be true: "Science Not to Blame for Non-Religious Scientists." Elaine Ecklund, a sociologist at the University of Buffalo states:

"Our study data do not strongly support the idea that scientists simply drop their religious identities upon professional training, due to an inherent conflict between science and faith, or to institutional pressure to conform."

Read the whole thing. Hat tip to CR4.