Wednesday, July 30, 2008
"I think today more than ever in history we have strong scientific evidence that points in the direction of a creator of the universe in the areas of cosmology, physics, astronomy, biochemistry, genetics and human consciousness," said Strobel, former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and author of "The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ."
In recent decades, scientists have made a series of extraordinary discoveries, including that the universe, space and time had a beginning, and that the laws of the universe are fine-tuned with almost microscopic precision to make life possible.
"The speed of light, the expansion rate of the universe, the strength of gravitational attraction and the strength of many other fundamental forces are balanced within very fine tolerances to allow for the possibility of life in the universe," said Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Seattle, Wash.-based Discovery Institute, in another debate at Freedom Fest entitled "Is There Scientific Evidence For Intelligent Design in Nature?" "The evidence has led many physicists to suspect that the universe itself is intelligently designed."
The problem I have here and have always had with this "evidence" is that, while it is certainly information that causes one to scratch the head in puzzlement, it is circumstantial and proceeds from argument based on personal incredulity. Further, there simply isn't any way to test the hypothesis that God is behind these "tweaks." To accept that God created the universe in just this way boils down to...uh, what's that word—Oh yeah, "faith."
Monday, July 28, 2008
We propose a compromise that would neither violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment nor limit the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Most defenders of evolution do not consider valid the critics’ fears that evolution teaches values. Even so, teachers could take these concerns seriously by clarifying what evolutionary theory does not imply about values. To assuage the type of concern articulated by William Jennings Bryan, teachers could tell students that even though evolutionary science talks about the survival of the fittest organism, it is not a model for how humans should treat each other. They could explain that students should not make an “ought” about human behaviour from an “is” of nature and that competition in contemporary society will not lead to increased survival rates. Moreover, they could explicitly note that just because mutations in organisms are random, it does not follow that human morality is random.
I would suggest that this problem stems from an additional supposition, intrinsic to the nature of evolution—that humans have evolved as well as other animals. This is a major stumbling block for many Christians who see humans as specially created not only in thought but in deed.
STEIN: Well, I don't think that you should teach them on any kind of proportional basis that I can figure out, but I think that if a student or a teacher says Darwinism will take us so far and no farther, he should not be punished.
So, is it possible that Ben Stein sees himself as champion of the underdog, rather than a crusader for Intelligent Design? Sorry there is no link. It is a transcript behind a subscription wall.
Like the U.S., there are two school systems in Indonesia: State-funded public schools that are mostly secular, and privately-funded schools, like madrassahs, that often incorporate religious education into the curriculum.
In public schools, evolution is taught independent of religion; in a madrassah, evolution is taught alongside religion.
Unlike the U.S., however, Indonesian public school students have to fulfill a religious studies requirement to graduate, despite the secular nature of the public schools. This almost forces any interpretation of evolution to fit within the bounds of Islam; according to many professors, this is not problematic.
"There shouldn't be any disagreements because the Koran is compatible with science," says Fahma Wijayanti, a lecturer at the Biology Department at State Islamic University (UIN). "If we learn more about evolution, we can discover and learn more about God's plan."
Baiq Hana Susanti, another lecturer at UIN, says that Darwin's theory is "largely inconclusive, with many missing links. The Koran fills in these holes or mysterious parts where there is no science to explain them."
Intelligent Design, Islamic-style. Oh, joy.
Friday, July 25, 2008
To feel that creativity and evolution share so much in common, that evolution seems to be slow-motion creativity, does not mean that one must automatically invoke a god who is the creator. Creativity does not need a creative agent; it does not even need consciousness.
This is confirmed by much research into creativity and attested to by us all when we are faced with a difficult problem and decide "to sleep on it." Buddhism is quite at home with a creative and intelligent world, and with intelligent evolution in that world, even though a Buddhist neither affirms nor denies the existence of God.
Something new to think about.
Poor Tarbosaurus. Even though it was a top predator during the Cretaceous most people have never heard about it, the theropod from Asia being a poor man's Tyrannosaurus. (Some people think that Tarbosaurus = Tyrannosaurus, but I side with those who hold that they are distinct.) Still, even though it is not as famous as it's North American cousin it is still pretty cool that the recovery of a nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile Tarbosaurus has just been announced. Discovered two years ago in the Gobi Desert the fossils have now been prepped, revealing a young dinosaur only about 7 feet long.
Another piece of the puzzle. Yay.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Vestigial eyes, for example, are clear evidence that these cave salamanders must have had ancestors who were different from them - had eyes, in this case. That is evolution. Why on Earth would God create a salamander with vestiges of eyes? If he wanted to create blind salamanders, why not just create blind salamanders? Why give them dummy eyes that don't work and that look as though they were inherited from sighted ancestors?
As much as I disagree with the theology of Dawkins, he is correct. The thing is that this is only one example of many that strongly suggest an evolutionary path for so many animals—the whale being one of them. Why would such an animal have a rudimentary pelvis and vestigial limbs? Further, why would there be evidence in the fossil record that its precursors once lived on land? How does ID explain this? How can it? Or is this the undesigned part of creation?
Bitterman said college officials fired him over the phone and told him it was for teaching religion instead of history. He argued that academic freedom should have outweighed religious concerns.
"What was for him a purely objective, academic exercise in studying the religious beliefs of different Western civilizations became a group of fundamentalist students taking exception when it came time for their God to be put under the microscope," Bitterman's attorney, Brad Schroeder, said earlier this week.
I would have asked for more money than that. That is just plain silly. You don't fire someone for that. You might talk to them about students' sensibilities—maybe, but any more than that is excessive.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Balancing the issue, the all-inclusive fossil record (the standard by which the history of all living creatures, to include man, may be reckoned) has failed to produce a solitary intermediate specimen showing said graduation. Instead, the record reveals a marked continuum; all species appear to be as they were from the beginning. Great credence, based on the testimony of paleontologists throughout the world, may, therefore, be justly added to the scientific version of prototypes.
Yes we do have intermediates. Thousands of 'em. In all major orders. No they don't appear as they were from the beginning. They appear sequentially, in steps, over time. This has been rebutted so many times that I am not sure where to go for a link. Here is the TalkOrigins page on intermediates, with loads of references at the end. The chapter continues:
If the whale had, in fact, progressed through the different orders as prescribed by the scientific council—fish, amphibian, lizard, quadruped carnivore, amphibian, and whale, cumulating (increasing) in size with each transformation of its organic structure, there should have been at least a partial record encapsulated within the earth’s crust. The purported trip of the nostrils from the tip of the snout to the top of the head, the telescoping of the large head, and the disappearing hind limbs would have presented hundreds, if not thousands, of intermediate specimens. Yet, not one intermediate specimen showing said transition has ever been discovered; this is a remarkable fact.
Yes, it is remarkable, especially since it is wrong. There are many intermediates, detailed here starting with Sinonyx and leading up to Dorudon. Once again, look for the long reference list at the end. Although this only represents two examples in the set of books, these suggest strongly that this is simply repackaged creationism—arguments that have been refuted time and again. No, based on these examples, I would not recommend this series of books.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The State Board of Education is to meet this week to discuss revising the science curriculum. Whether to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories has been a topic of debate for months.
Opponents call the phrase an underhanded way for creationists to cast doubt on evolution.
Don McLeroy, a creationist and the chairman of the state board, said he would make it a priority to keep the phrase in the state science curriculum.
"It was written for evolution, and everybody admits that," he said. "They say we're trying to put in creationism. We're not. To me, this whole evolution controversy is a distraction." (emphasis added)
How can it be a distraction if you have specifically singled it out among all of the science disciplines???? The whole point of the legislation is to allow for the teaching of something other than evolution. It isn't a distraction. It's the main point. Calling it a distraction is a smokescreen and is flat-out dishonest.
The subject of the post is a 375-million-year-old fossil that helps reveal the transition of our ancestors from the water to land, known as Tiktaalik. I’ve written about Tiktaalik here, and you can get more details from the book Your Inner Fish, written by Neil Shubin, one of Tiktaalik’s discoverers. (Here’s a review I wrote in Nature.)
Luskin claims that Neil Shubin calls Tiktaalik a fish with a wrist, but “from what I can tell, Tiktaalik doesn’t have one.” The bulk of the post is taken up by Luskin’s fruitless search for a diagram or some other helpful information, either in Shubin’s book or the original papers. He is frustrated not to find a picture showing a wrist on Tiktaalik compared to the wrist of a tetrapod (a land vertebrate). This sort of “evidence” leads Luskin to conclude that Shubin has something to hide. “In the end, it’s no wonder Shubin chose not to provide a diagram comparing Tiktaalik’s fin-bones to the bones of a real tetrapod limb,” he writes.The problem, of course, as Zimmer points out, is that Shubin did exactly that. He does so in the book. I just read the description. That is what led to my post about the ulnar-humeral joint. This reminds me of the DI's response to Laura Beil's NYT article linking creationism to the academic freedom bills in legislation. As I pointed out at the time, the entire response by the DI was based on a misreading of the original article by Ms. Beil. It is as if they are so caught up in the fever that they just aren't paying attention.
It seems as if the DI is employing scientists to do the work but all of the PR work is being done by creationists with no knowledge of the fossil record or of evolution. I used to think there were more than subtle differences between the DI and, say, the ICR. That is becoming less true as time goes on.
- The Hovinds were charged with a total of 58 counts of tax evasion.
- Counts one through 12 include Kent Hovind’s alleged failure to collect nearly $470,000 in employee taxes.
- Counts 13 through 57 include both Kent and Jo Hovind. They are charged with structuring cash transactions of $430,500 to avoid reporting requirements.
- Count 58 includes the following charges against Kent Hovind:
- Filing a frivolous lawsuit against the IRS,
- demanding damages for criminal trespass.
- Filing an injunction against an IRS agent.
- Making threats against investigators and those cooperating with the investigation.
- Filing false complaints against the IRS for false arrest, excessive use of force and theft.
He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to ten years in the pen. Kent Hovind, if you will recall is the one who offered $250 000 to anyone who could prove that evolution was true. Here is the original (now out-of-date) TalkOrigins article detailing the challenge and information about Kent Hovind, himself.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Consider the Garden of Eden on the day God rested from His work. If we understand the narrative as a historical account, the universe would have been fully functional. Light from distant stars was already reaching Earth. Large trees with their many annual rings populated the Garden. Mountains and valleys appeared weathered by erosion. Adam and Eve presumably spoke a human language with rules and conventions already learned and rehearsed. Adam appeared to have some experience with horticulture and animal husbandry, and Eve appeared to have some domestic skills. Millions of different species each filled their ecological niches as if they had been doing so for ages.
He is quite correct. If everything were created in six days, some appearance of age would be unavoidable. To me, though, the biggest stumbling block in the whole appearance of age thing is that the YEC crowd tries to have it both ways. First, they try to show that the earth shows signs of being created in six days (for example, the RATE Project, The Grand Canyon Research Project), then, when it doesn't, it reflects the appearance of age. Uh, sorry. That doesn't work. If it shows the appearance of age, then it should show the appearance of age EVERYWHERE. If it doesn't, then it means that God screwed up in places when He was going around artificially aging things. As I have written before, this becomes a Time Bandits God, not the God we know from the Bible.
Alters says informal research by his centre has found that about one-third of teachers report pressure from parents to teach creationism or intelligent design, the theory that God directs the development of life, in the class as an alternative to evolution.
Most respond by teaching neither evolution nor creationism, leaving students with the impression that the two are of equal merit, he says. Others tiptoe around the issue, acknowledging that people of some faiths believe in creationism.
Alters, if you recall, sought to do a study to determine whether or not ID was gaining ground in Canada and was his grant proposal was turned down. As the story relates:
The committee reviewing his application said there was inadequate "justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent design theory, was correct."
Read the whole thing, especially for the mind-boggling comments by Kent Hovind (Dr. Dino).
Friday, July 11, 2008
Whether or not the law as signed is unconstitutional per se, I do not know. I do know, though — as the creationist Discovery Institute that helped promote the Act also surely knows — that the Act will encourage Louisiana local school boards to unconstitutional behavior. That's what it's meant to do.
Indeed, one should wonder when a distinctly anti-evolution organization strongly supports an "academic freedom" bill just after the state school board changes its policies to include more evolution in the classroom.
Commenting on the inevitable lawsuits that will come when a science teacher starts teaching creationism and gets caught doing it:
Where will the Discovery Institute be when these legal expenses come due? Just where they were in the Dover case — nowhere! What, you were thinking that those bold warriors for truth at the Discovery Institute will help to fund the defense in these no-hope lawsuits? Ha ha ha ha ha!
Stealth anti-evolutionism once again. The first time there is a lawsuit of the nature that Derbyshire notes (and there will be one soon, I bet), Jindal needs to repeal the act.
A county commissioners' meeting this week over traffic tickets turned into a tense discussion over race when one commissioner said the county's collections office was like a certain astronomical phenomenon.
"It sounds like Central Collections has become a black hole," Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, who is white, said during the Monday meeting.
One black official demanded an apology, and Commissioner John Wiley Price, who also is black, said that type of language is unacceptable.
At the meeting, Mayfield said he intended his comments to be taken in the context of the scientific meaning, and became upset that he was being misunderstood.
Why do you suppose they call it a black hole? Is it because it is, ummm black? Do you suppose he doesn't know what a black hole is? Should we remove the word "black" from the language? Gee that's sensible. Just goes to show you can put people in positions of power who haven't a lick of common sense.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
His first "transitional" fossil was an adult specimen he stumbled on in the Paris Museum, part of a collection that had been given to Napoleon as tribute as he fought in Italy 200 years ago. It clearly had an eye socket near the top of the skull, he said, in transit to the other side of the face.
In London, he found a second fossil species of Amphistium, slightly younger than the one recovered in Italy. In London he also borrowed two Amphistium specimens still deeply embedded in Italian sandstone, which he analyzed with CT scans, also revealing eye sockets in transition.
In Vienna, he found misclassified fossils that turned out to be an entirely new flatfish genus he named Heteronectes ("different swimmer") which he said clearly is in the transitional stage.
How does this involve creationism, you ask?
After publishing his evolutionary theory, On [the] Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin and the theory came under furious attack by religious leaders. In 1871, St. George Mivart, a Catholic lawyer and zoologist, published On Genesis of the Species, challenging Darwin, prominently using the example of flatfish and their eyes in his argument.
"Darwin feebly responded with scenario that relied on evolution of inherited traits," said Friedman, and the flatfish argument has been an arrow in the quiver of anti-evolutionists ever since, cited as recently as 2003 in pro-creationist James Best's online book "God and Fallacy in the Theory of Evolution."
Yup. Never bet against science. You will lose.
To the chagrin of the science thought police, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has signed into law an act to protect teachers who want to encourage critical thinking about hot-button science issues such as global warming, human cloning, and yes, evolution and the origin of life.
Opponents allege that the Louisiana Science Education Act is “anti-science.” In reality, the opposition’s efforts to silence anyone who disagrees with them is the true affront to scientific inquiry.
The "science thought police." I wonder who those people are? No matter. Onward:
And lessons about evolution present a caricature of modern evolutionary theory that papers over problems and fails to distinguish between fact and speculation. In these areas, the “scientific” view is increasingly offered to students as a neat package of dogmatic assertions that just happens to parallel the political and cultural agenda of the Left.
What exactly are these problems? He doesn't say. Further, he indicates that he thinks that evolutionary theory is more ideology than science, once again, without any indication of why this is so. He notes the support of several scientists:
At a legislative hearing in May, three college professors (two biologists and one chemist) testified in favor of the bill, specifically challenging the claim that there are no legitimate scientific criticisms of Neo-Darwinism, the modern theory of evolution that accounts for biological complexity through an undirected process of natural selection acting on random mutations.
I certainly hope that is not what they testified to, since that is an erroneous definition of evolution, which is anything but random. He compounds his error further in the following paragraph:
First, the idea that a firewall exists between scientific “facts” and their implications for society is not sustainable. Facts have implications. If it really is a “fact” that the evolution of life was an unplanned process of chance and necessity (as Neo-Darwinism asserts), then that fact has consequences for how we view life. It does not lead necessarily to Richard Dawkins’s militant atheism, but it certainly makes less plausible the idea of a God who intentionally directs the development of life toward a specific end.
Neo-darwinism (whatever that is; he doesn't define it and no evolutionary biologist uses the term) asserts nothing of the sort. The militant atheism of Richard Dawkins proceeds not from a reading of evolution but an animosity toward theology and religion. It does not make less plausible the idea of God because belief in God is faith. Acceptance of evolution is science. As far as the idea that a firewall exists between facts and their implications goes, I don't know anyone who actually thinks that. Of course facts have implications. But scientific facts have to be properly understood and Mr. West has not done so here.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
In 1987, the Court voted 7-2 to strike down the law. Scalia and Rehnquist voted to uphold the law. Since then, Rehnquist was replaced by Roberts (a wash), and the court gained conservative Justices Alito and Thomas (who is more conservative even than Scalia). Justice Kennedy, who voted against the Louisiana Bill, is now the crucial swing vote on the Court, and shows a disturbing tendency to waffle on key issues. Assuming he remains firm in his anti-creationism, though, we now have a 5-4 court if the same law were presented. A single McCain judge could overturn Edwards v. Aguillard.
I am still somewhat of the opinion that we should allow creationism to be taught in the public schools in science class. It would expose it for the fraud that it is. The theological backlash would be devastating, however. The other problem that I have is that I have never been a one-issue voter and don't have any plans to support Barack Obama because his viewpoints are way too liberal for my liking. I will take my chances with McCain.
The text contains an extensive index, lists of references at the ends of many entries, and a bibliography. Additional information, references, and photographs are also available at a companion website. Illustrated with b&w photographs
They note that it is even-handed in its approach. Good. Sigh. Another book to read.
If you attempt to reconcile religion and science on questions about nature and the universe, and if you push the science to its logical conclusion, you will end up naturalizing the deity because for any question about nature - the origins of the universe, life, cells, humans, whatever - if your answer is "God did it," a scientist will ask, "How did God do it?, What forces did God use? What forms of matter and energy were employed in the process?" and so forth. The end result of this inquiry can only be natural explanations for all natural phenomena. What place, then, for God?
Shermer is correct in that, outside the bounds of miracles, there has to be some mechanism. The reason that science works so well is that the universe behaves in an orderly and predictable way and has for billions of years. This allows for hypotheses to be checked and theory to be devised. Another point that Shermer does not make here is that ID argues from lack of evidence. "Your theory is wrong, therefore mine is right." There is no thought to consider different alternatives. This point was not lost on Bobby Henderson, who argues that it is just as reasonable to believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster since all alternatives are equally good when there is no mechanism involved.
Mount Vernon, a small city in central Ohio surrounded by farmland, is dotted by churches of just about every denomination. The town has a strong evangelical presence.
Some residents consider Freshwater a courageous fighter for religious freedom. Others say he has brazenly violated the separation of church and state, as required by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"This is going to be a mess," said Dr. Allan Bazzoli, who has written letters to the local newspaper criticizing Freshwater. "Resident against resident, and worse, student against student."
Freshwater's supporters have rallied on the town's square urging school board members to resign.
A much-viewed sign about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from town reads: "If the Bible goes, the school board should follow."
In some ways, I see this as a backlash to the recent court decisions that are removing the right to teach scripture of any kind in the schools. The parents are hacked off and, in the absence of a decent venue to vent their frustrations, see groups like Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research as their friends. Consequently, they are willing to accept uncritically all of the help and teaching that they get. The perspective almost seems to be "even if its bad science, the kids are getting the scripture they need." You can almost see their point. Almost.
A previous study of anatomical changes in toe bone structure had dated the use of shoes to about 30,000 years ago.
Now the dainty-toed fossil from China suggests that at least some humans were sporting protective footwear 10,000 years further back, during a time when both modern humans and Neandertals occupied portions of Europe and Asia.
Well, at least they are not stumbling around the landscape, like Erik said a few years ago. Sheesh.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Comer's suit against the agency and Education Commissioner Robert Scott, filed Tuesday in the Western District of Texas, seeks a court order overturning the agency's neutrality policy on teaching of creationism, prohibiting any agency policy that "in any way credits creationism as a valid scientific theory" and reinstating Comer in her former position as director of science for the agency's curriculum division.
If all of the reports are correct, then her firing was truly a low point in education. Given the way these court cases are going, I don't think she will have any trouble.
For Darwin, the theory of evolution became part of his increasing identification of the blind materialist processes of a soulless world. (Though it is worth noting that Darwin lost his faith in God not as the result of his own theory but after the death of his beloved 10-year-old daughter, Annie.) For Wallace, the theory of evolution became not the end of religious inquiry but the beginning of it. Without ever renouncing the theory of evolution, he felt that human beings were evolving toward a higher purpose; he saw evolution as part of a larger plan and felt that human beings were too complex morally, emotionally and intellectually to be accounted for by mere biology. When Darwin got wind of Wallace's growing theism, he wrote in distress to Wallace: "I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child." (links in original)
It is interesting to note that neither Darwin nor Wallace were racist in their formulation of natural selection and that, while natural selection may have had different underpinnings for each of them, they both felt that all humans were created equal. He closes with this nugget:
It is foolish to be arguing about creation vs. evolution in the classroom, given the mountain of evidence for evolution by means of natural selection. But talking about Darwin and Wallace together, and the vastly different conclusions they drew from their theory of evolution, makes a great deal of sense in this fractured and contentious moment. We need them both.
The Creation Museum planners have brought together an impressive group of scientists, researchers and designers who have been thorough in their presentation. While some consider the museum to be controversial, we found it an excellent presentation. It is refreshing to visit a place so well designed and carefully documented as to the scientific facts.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Many evangelicals accept the big bang – indeed, quite a few evangelical leaders believe that aspects of the big bang theory strongly support belief in the divine creation of the universe. Many evangelicals also accept modern geology, with a 4.65 billion-year-old earth and the long history of living things before humans arrived on the planet. But evolution - understood here to mean the common descent of humans and other organisms - presents very serious problems for many, perhaps most, evangelicals.
This is true. I do not think that I have any friends who I go to church with that accept evolution. At the end of the piece he mentions a number of people who are practicing scientists and yet are Christians. They are far too few. There is a lot of work to be done.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
This site is devoted to the historical relationship between the Bible and astronomy. It assumes that whenever the two are at variance, it is always astronomy—that is, our "reading" of the "Book of Nature," not our reading of the Holy Bible—that is wrong. History bears consistent witness to the truth of that stance.
The individuals passionately believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the earth is located at the center of the universe. Gordon notes, correctly, that the motivation of this group is not to understand how God's creation actually works, but rather to promote the position that because of modern astronomy, man's relationship with God has been "devalued." This is exactly what is going on with evolution. Astounding.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
ID is often referred to as Creationism light. In fact it's more Creationism in drag. Though its proponents claim scientific neutrality, they are usually overtly religious people affiliated with overtly religious institutions. They have written essays and books about why ID is science. And yet when all the sophistry is boiled down, the theory amounts to "living things are complicated. Some-one must have made them."
This has actually been borne out with the information about the Discovery Institute and Of Pandas and People since the Dover trial, which couldn't have ended worse for them. He adds:
It is often observed that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean everyone isn't out to get you. It is equally true that when everyone insists you are wrong about something it doesn't necessarily mean they're engaged in an elaborate conspiracy. You could just be wrong.