Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Davis Young on Flood Geology

In 1995, Davis Young wrote a book titled The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence. He has adapted it to a somewhat lengthy but captivating essay titled History of the Collapse of "Flood Geology" and a Young Earth. Davis once upon a time wrote the truly excellent Christianity and the Age of the Earth, which tackled most of the young earth arguments. Here, he traces the history of the literal acceptance of the Genesis flood story and how that perspective was eventually dismissed by geologists of the nineteenth century only to be taken up again by non-geologists in the twentieth century.

It is often instructive to see how great minds wrestled with the demise of time-honored beliefs in the face of an avalanche of evidence to the contrary. This is what makes the current wave of flood geology all the more inexplicable. The evidence against a world-wide flood has just gotten better, not worse over time. As young notes:
The issue for flood geologists is not whether extrabiblical evidence is relevant to biblical interpretation but rather how to interpret that evidence. Having already employed, without benefit of external evidence, a hermeneutic that demands a literal interpretation of the Bible, flood geologists are prepared to do anything but accept the mainstream scientific evidence that flatly refutes their claims that the earth is geologically young and that a global deluge deposited the fossiliferous strata. They have thus been forced either to appeal to miracles or to construct elaborate theories that manipulate the extrabiblical data to fit their view of what must be true.
As Henry Morris wrote:"The only Bible-honoring conclusion is, of course, that Genesis 1-11 is actual historical truth, regardless of any scientific or chronological problems thereby entailed." [Henry Morris, Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth] This philosophy was also played out in the RATE project where the results were overseen to make sure they corresponded to a "scriptural" understanding of prehistory. He writes this in his conclusion:
Some Christians delight in contrasting the infallible Word of God (that is to say, the Word of God infallibly interpreted by them) with the fallible ideas of sinful human beings and on that basis reject scientific conclusions they do not like. Scripture does oppose purely human philosophies, human pride, and human sin. But does the Bible oppose everything human? Science is a human endeavor that requires the input of fallible humans, but that hardly means that it is anti-Christian, and it certainly does not prevent Christians from accepting and using the results of science. Even the most doctrinaire advocates of a literal reading of Genesis 1-11 are selective in their objections to the findings of the scientific community.

How many of them deny that the earth orbits the sun rather than the other way around, for example? How many object to the science that made high-tech electronics, manned missions to the moon, or modern drugs possible? When so many scientists of such a diverse array of worldviews are able to achieve a virtual consensus regarding a given body of evidence, we had better pay attention. When for the past two centuries thousands of geologists from around the world, including numerous Bible-believing Christians, insist from a lifetime of experience in looking at fossiliferous rocks that those rocks are extremely old and had nothing to do with a global deluge, then the church must listen. Commentators who dismiss or disparage that body of geological knowledge solely on the grounds of their commitment to a principle of interpretation might do well to question their commitment to truth in a larger sense. Is it likely that they will arrive at a sound understanding of what God is saying in the biblical text if they reject a sound understanding of what God is saying in the created order? The extrabiblical data pertaining to the flood have been pushing the evangelical church to develop a better approach to the flood story and indeed to all the early chapters of Genesis.

And yet they continue to peddle the same old myths. Read the whole thing.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Jerry Coyne Responds

University of Chicago's Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True has some things to say about the Texas controversy and the new standards. As is usual, he is a bit over the top but truthful, nonetheless:
What happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas. That state is a sizeable consumer of public school textbooks, and it's likely that if it waters down its science standards, textbook publishers all over the country will follow suit. This makes every American school hostage to the caprices of a few benighted Texas legislators.

What's next? Since there are many who deny the Holocaust, can we expect legislation requiring history classes to discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of the idea that Nazis persecuted Jews? Should we teach our children astrology in their psychology classes as an alternative theory of human behaviour? And, given the number of shamans in the world, shouldn't their views be represented in medical schools?

Methinks that this is not quite the problem that he sees, but it would be interesting to see if some teacher taught holocaust denial as a legitimate position and then defended it as "critical evaluation of a theory." That would certainly cause a rethink of the standards, although probably not the ones involving science. He is correct about the pervasive nature of the Texas textbook scene, which means that we should take his warnings perhaps more seriously than I am.

Don McLeroy Speaks Out

Don McLeroy wrote an editorial for the Austin American-Statesman that appeared on March 25 and which I missed when it came out. It is clear that he continues to attempt to understand little about evolution. For example, he writes:
Stephen Jay Gould stated: "The great majority of species do not show any appreciable evolutionary change at all. [This is called 'stasis.'] These species appear ... without obvious ancestors in the underlying beds, are stable once established and disappear higher up without leaving any descendants."

"...but stasis is data...

Once we have our observations, we can make a hypothesis. The controversial evolution hypothesis is that all life is descended from a common ancestor by unguided natural processes. How well does this hypothesis explain the data? A new curriculum standard asks Texas students to look into this question. It states: "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." It should not raise any objections from those who say evolution has no weaknesses; they claim it is unquestionably true.

And the standard is not religious but does raise a problem for the evolution hypothesis in that stasis is the opposite of evolution, and "stasis is data."

Gould's actual quote is this:
"The paleontological literature, particularly in the 'summing up' articles of dedicated specialists, abounds in testimony for predominant stasis, often viewed as surprising, anomalous, or even a bit embarrassing, because such experts had been trained to expect gradualism, particularly as the reward of diligent study. To choose some examples in just three prominent fossil groups representing the full span of conventional 'complexity' in the invertebrate record, most microorganisms seem to show predominant stasis - despite the excellent documentation of a few 'best cases' of gradualism in Cenozoic planktonic Foraminifera (see pp. 803-810). For example, MacGillavry (1968, p. 70) wrote from long practical experience: "During my work as an oil paleontologist, I had the opportunity to study sections meeting these rigid requirements [of continuous sedimentation and sufficient span of time]. As an ardent student of evolution, moreover, I was continually on the watch for evidence of evolutionary change ... The great majority of species do not show any appreciable evolutionary change at all. These species appear in the section (first occurrence) without obvious ancestors in underlying beds, are stable once established, and disappear higher up without leaving any descendants."
Aside from the fact that McLeroy completely misquotes Gould, stasis in the evolutionary record simply records the fact that the species was optimally adapted to its surroundings and selection was neither directional nor selective with regard to its traits. Stasis is not the opposite of evolution, as McLeroy states. Such a statement betrays a complete lack of understanding of the theory that he so roundly opposes. Statements that we are betraying our students by teaching them evolution ring hollow when the average student probably knows more about it than McLeroy does.

Did the Texas SBOE Trick Itself?

That seems to be what the Discovery Institute is saying. From the Discovery Blog, Bruce Chapmen writes:
The New York Times got the preview story wrong, and the Washington Post editorial writer probably was too rushed to question the charges of "creationism" coming from the National Center for Science Education, the Darwin-only lobby. So this week's important decisions by the Texas Board of Education (TBOE) on how to teach evolution were predicated in the media by the big question of whether teachers should provide both "strengths and weaknesses" of Darwin's theory. Those words might sound benign, readers were told, but they really are "code words" (take the press' word for it) for creationism and religion.
Boy, it sure would be nice if he had provided the links to those editorials. You know, like most people do in blogs. So...I have to go get them myself. The NYT headline was "Defeat and Some Success for Texas Evolution Foes" while the WaPo's headline read: "Texas education board approves science standards", which is closer to the mark but not quite correct. It is possible that the "critical evaluation" language might allow for some creationism in the schools but the reverse is equally true—that teachers will simply say that, under critical evaluation, the theories of modern science hold up and that, under critical evaluation, the tenets of ID and creationism, do not. I am, perhaps being overly optimistic in this approach but, like Kenneth Miller, think that students ought to critically examine all scientific theories. Creationism tends to creep in when teachers and students DON'T critically examine all theories. Then Chapman writes this:
Once again the NCSE was too-smart-by-half. It ran blogs making fun of religion, while organizing public speakers who gave fulsome testimony to their Christian faith and how compatible it is with "evolution" (meaning Darwinian evolution). To the purists like Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers it probably makes them look like toadies.
Not quite. The NCSE's Josh Rosenau live-blogged the meetings from his own site. In fact, from the NCSE page, you find this:
Detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary on the proceedings is available on a number of blogs: Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman is blogging and posting photographs on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog, the Texas Freedom Network is blogging on its TFN Insider blog, and NCSE's Joshua Rosenau is blogging on his personal blog, Thoughts from Kansas (hosted by ScienceBlogs). For those wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth, minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting will be available on the Texas Education Agency's website. NCSE's previous reports on events in Texas are available on-line, and of course NCSE will continue to monitor the situation as well as to assist those defending the teaching of evolution in the Lone Star State.
The NCSE didn't run a blog about the meetings. Even Josh Rosenau's blog is hosted by someone else. That some of the writers of these blogs do not support religion has nothing to do with the NCSE. Eugenie Scott's testimony was perfectly appropriate at the hearings, as was Josh Rosenau's.

Additionally, Chapman throws a nasty, veiled insult about Christians that support evolution that is mean-spirited and offensive. Once again, the DI bloviates and, once again, doesn't get it quite right. And they want us to take them seriously?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Steven Schafersman on the Texas Vote, Casey Luskin and the Future

Steve Schafersman, who live-blogged the Texas hearings for the three days that they were held has these parting words:
What is the bottom line? Did we win or lose? Neither. We got rid of the worst language, but a great deal of qualifying language remains. I am not going to claim either victory or defeat. I realize that Casey Luskin of Discovery Institute will declare complete, unqualified victory, but it is not that for them. Neither is it for us. The standards adopted were generally good, but there are several that are flawed, fortunately most in minor ways that textbook authors and publishers can deal with. I think we can work around the few flawed standards. But the point is that there shouldn't be ANY flawed standards. The science standards as submitted by the science writing teams were excellent and flaw-free. All the flaws were added by politically unscrupulous SBOE members with an extreme right-wing religious agenda to support Creationism.
I would like to think the best of my fellow Christians. The problem is that there are incidents like this here in Texas and what happened at dover, in 2005. On reflection of that trial, Judge Jones said the following about the witnesses for the defense (in this case the school board, aided by the Discovery Institute):
In the realm of the lay witnesses, if you will, some of the school board witnesses were dreadful witnesses and hence the description “breathtaking inanity” and “mendacity.” In my view, they clearly lied under oath. They made a very poor account of themselves. They could not explain why they did what they did. They really didn't even know what intelligent design was. It was quite clear to me that they viewed intelligent design as a method to get creationism into the public school classroom. They were unfortunate and troublesome witnesses. Simply remarkable, in that sense.
The word"mendacious" should never appear in a paragraph describing the witness of a Christian. We are all fallen creatures, but God asks us to live life with integrity and honesty and that when dealing with all people out in the wide world, "the end justifies the means" is not a philosophy by which to live.

Texas Science Standards: Luskin Declares Victory

On the Discovery Institute's site today, an article appeared devoted to the Texas Science Standards hearings. The DI writes:
Today, the Texas Board of Education chose science over dogma and adopted science standards improving on the old "strengths and weaknesses" language by requiring students to “critique” and examine “all sides of scientific evidence.” In addition, the Board—for the first time— specifically required high school students to “analyze and evaluate” the evidence for major evolutionary concepts such as common ancestry, natural selection, and mutations.

The new science standards mark a significant victory for scientists and educators in favor of teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution.
This is only a victory if you redefine things. The stripping of the "strengths and weaknesses" language was a blow because it related directly to evolution. Inclusion of the language to critique and evaluate "all sides of scientific evidence" is almost meaningless because that is what scientists do every day. What the article states later on is particularly two-faced though:
“Texas now has the most progressive science standards on evolution in the entire nation,” said Dr. John West, Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute. “Contrary to the claims of the evolution lobby, absolutely nothing the Board did promotes ‘creationism’ or religion in the classroom. Groups that assert otherwise are lying, plain and simple. Like the boy who cried ‘Wolf,’ the Darwin only lobby [sic] always screams ‘creationism!’ anytime educators or policymakers try to ensure a fair presentation of the scientific evidence both for and against evolution. Let’s be absolutely clear: Under the new standards, students will be expected to analyze and evaluate the scientific evidence for evolution, not religion. Period.”
The Discovery Institute was heavily involved in these hearings, just as they were heavily involved in the Dover trial in Pennsylvania in 2005, when they tried to bring in the blatantly creationist book Of Pandas and People. Can anybody say "cdesign proponentsists?" Amazing.

ABC Covers the Texas Hearings

This appeared in ABC's web edition at the start of the hearings. The story, by April Castro assesses the atmosphere thus:
Activists on Wednesday took advantage of the last opportunity to testify on the proposed standards, which would drop a 20-year-old rule that requires both "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories be taught. Critics say the requirement is used to undermine the theory of evolution in favor of religious teachings.

The standards adopted by the board will be in place for a decade and will dictate how textbook publishers cover the topic.

Protesters and activists gathered nearby, fervently arguing their sides of the debate.

"My grandfather was not a monkey!" one woman shouted at a crowd before the meeting began.

I am sure it was an interesting three days.

It Seems Only Fair...

I have added the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture to the list of Science and Faith links on the left hand side of the blog.

Texas Board Keeps Evolution in Curriculum

The Texas State Board of Education voted in favor of stripping the "strengths and weaknesses" language from the science curriculum standards, passing a set of standards that largely leaves the teaching of evolution intact. According to a story in the Houston Chronicle by Gary Sharrer:
The new standards, debated for weeks and watched closely across the country, will influence what Texas public school children learn about biology and other sciences and what is published in new science textbooks for the next 10 years, starting in the 2010-11 school year.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, and six other social conservatives lost several key votes designed to cast specific doubt on evolution.

The new standards no longer contain a provision allowing educators to teach the “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory, part of the current standards.

By an 8-7 vote, the board removed specific references to insufficiencies of evidence for common ancestry and natural selection and to “the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of fossil evidence.” All are key parts of evolutionary theory.

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Largely, the right things were kept in. It was not a total victory for sound science, though:
The board’s final action brought mixed reactions.

“The requirement that students ‘analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations’ and examine all sides of scientific evidence is the strongest critical thinking standard in any state science standards,” said Casey Luskin, a lawyer for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which challenges evolution theory.

Texas Citizens for Science President Steven Schafersman said scientists did not achieve complete victory but got enough.

“I think the science standards will be OK. Frankly, the publishers and the authors of the textbooks will be able to use this standard and write good textbooks,” Schafersman said. “They won’t be forced to do anything really bad.”

Make no mistake: this was a loss for Luskin and the DI, and his response is, in a sense, disingenuous. He is correct that all students should analyze and critically evaluate scientific theories. It is just that he doesn't care about any theory except evolution, which he has fought to keep out of public education.

Overall, a victory for the home team.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Don McLeroy's Evolution "Quotes"

The mover and shaker behind the Texas anti-evolution push against the science standards is the head of the Texas School Board, Don McLeroy. One of the sections of the standards he has proposed is 7B, which reads:
...describe the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden
appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;
He supported this clause with evidence at the tail end of the document. The complete document is here. The vast majority of the quotes involve mainstream scientists writing about evolution. The problem is that McLeroy has selectively used sentences here and there to bolster his opinions. This is classic creationist misquoting. Stand Up For Real Science has examined the quotes and discovered how badly he has misquoted the scientists involved. Here is one example. McLeroy has on his list of quotes:
"Once established an average species of animal or plant will not change enough to be regarded as a new species, even after surviving for something like a hundred thousand, or a million, or even ten million generations … Something tends to prevent the wholesale restructuring of a species, once it has become well established on earth." Steven. M. Stanley, Johns Hopkins Magazine, Page 6, June, 1982 [Stasis]
Here is what Stanley actually said:
"When studying fossil data, we may at times fail to distinguish between closely similar species within genera, but errors of this sort have no bearing on the question at hand. Even if evolution does occasionally occur by a tiny step, such a small change cannot help explain the major shifts seen elsewhere. If two or more species are nearly identical, then collectively they encompass very little evolutionary change. In short, to explain large-scale evolution, we need to look at large-scale evolution!

Large volumes of fossil data now permit us to make the following generalization: Once established, an average species of animal or plant will not change enough to be regarded as a new species, even after surviving for something like a hundred thousand, or a million, or even ten million generations

There is a paradox here, for using generations as units of time brings us into the realm of population genetics, and the simple fact is that workers in this field have never envisioned the remarkable evolutionary stability that we can now document. Artificial selection favoring certain heritable features has indeed produced substantial restructuring of laboratory fruit flies in only tens or hundreds of generations, and experimental geneticists have always assumed that their fruit fly experiments in principle mimic events in nature. Theoretically, it has seemed a very small percentage of selective deaths in each generation should, over myriads of generations, amount to a total biological remodeling of any species in nature. But the fossil record suggests otherwise: Something tends to prevent the wholesale restructuring of a species, once it has become well established on Earth.
Go to the page to see how examples like this abound. It is my suspicion that McLeroy did not get these quotes himself, but rather got them from another source. It is, however, clear that he didn't do his homework. Read the whole thing. Oh, and by the way, 7B got shot down yesterday.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Universe is How Old?

More from Texas. State Rep. Barbara Cargill, the one who wouldn't reply to my letter has introduced an amendment. As Discovery Blog reports it:
Texas Board of Education creationist Barbara Cargill today proposed an amendment to the science standards saying that teachers have to tell their students there are different estimates for the age of the Universe. This is not even a veiled attempt to attack the Big Bang model of the Universe, which clearly, and through multiple lines of evidence, indicates the Universe is 13.7 +/- 0.12 billion years old.

So Ms. Cargill is right, if she means that "different estimates" range from 13.58 to 13.82 (given one standard deviation) billion years old.

But she doesn’t mean that at all, does she? If you read her website, you’ll see she’s an out-and-out creationist. She has a large number of, um, factual errors on her site that are clearly right out of the Creationist Obscurational Handbook.

Anyway, her antiscience amendment passed 11 - 3.

That it passed by that large a margin means that the general level of science education on the board must be pretty limited or creationist sympathies must run high.
Oh, and by the way, my letter to Barbara Cargill has never gone answered.

Letter to the Texas State Board of Education

"Dear Texas State Board of Education,
Please do not include the “strengths and weaknesses” language in the science standards for the state of Texas. Where Texas goes, so goes much of the nation with regard to standards and textbooks. It would be a serious mistake to include language in the standards that would allow for substandard science to be taught in the schools. I have practiced palaeontology for over twenty years and please believe me when I tell you there is no controversy within the scientific community over the theory of biological evolution. It is one of the soundest theoretical constructs that exists in science. Adherents to evolutionary theory do not accept it because of some anti-religious “belief.” For them, it is the best scientific way to explain current and past biological diversity on the planet earth. Please do not confuse good science with bad. Please vote against inclusion of the “strengths and weaknesses” language in the Texas Science standards. Thank you very much for your time.


James Kidder, Ph.D."

It is not too late to write yours!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ken Mercer Speaks

Ken Mercer, a conservative member of the Texas State Board of Education has written an editorial for the San Antonio Express News. He writes:
The conservative SBOE members support 99 percent of the Science TEKS proposed by the educators who have served on the science writing team. The only point of contention seems to revolve around the concepts of “microevolution” and “macroevolution.”

No one on the SBOE is challenging microevolution, those small changes we see every day that are already part of the genetic code. We brush our teeth, wash our hands, and put a Band-Aid on an open wound because we fully comprehend the verifiable evidence of microevolution.

It is macroevolution (i.e., the theory of large changes such as the hypothesized common primate ancestor becoming today’s chimps and humans) that is very weak and deserves critical questioning and thought.

The macroevolution lobby is on public record as stating that high school students are “unqualified to ask questions.” We conservative SBOE members do not concur because we believe that the opportunity to ask questions is fundamental to good science.

There is a bit of honesty and revelation here. The "strengths and weaknesses" language of the standards were supposedly applied to all scientific disciplines and yet, here we have a SBOE member suggesting exactly what most people already have figured out: it is aimed at evolution. Further, from behind the wall of an editorial, he makes unfounded claims that nobody can ask him to back up. How is the case for the common ancestry of humans and chimpanzees weak? Does he even know what the evidence for this is? He also writes:
Editorial boards have erroneously reported that scientists are near complete agreement about macroevolution. However, in actuality, over 700 fully credentialed scientists are on public record as saying they believe evolution warrants much discussion of both the strengths and weaknesses of this scientific theory.
What he doesn't say (and may not even know) is that there is one lone palaeontologist on that list who has published four papers in the last eighteen years. He paints the debate as one of the academic freedom to ask questions. That is a smokescreen. What is really at issue here is the right to teach ideas that have no scientific validity as if they did.

Texas SBOE Hearings, Day 2

Josh Rosenau is blogging the Texas State Board of Education hearing here. He also testified. Here is a brief section:
The National Center for Science Education and these [54] many scientific societies urge the Board to delay or reject outright any further amendments which have not been reviewed by your writing committees and the community of Texas scientists and educators. Do not be distracted by discredited creationist claims such as that microbes are irreducibly complex or that the Cambrian Explosion is inexplicable. Do not single out evolution or related concepts in geoscience for scrutiny beyond that given to every other scientific topic.

Texas students _deserve_ a world-class education, and this revision process could move them toward that goal, … or hold them back. Please, listen to the voices of scientists and educators, listen to the writing committees you chose, and restore and protect honest science in the TEKS.

At what point can one reasonably argue that people like Casey Luskin of the DI are lying?

The Texas School Board Vote

The Texas State Board of Education controversy got picked up on CNN's radar. In a story titled: Science standards challenging evolution debated in Texas, the author writes:
The board -- considering amendments passed in January -- will hear from the public on Wednesday. It will then take votes -- an initial one Thursday and the final vote Friday.

"This specific attack on well-established science ignores mountains of evidence and years of research done by experts in a variety of fields," said Steven Newton, project director at the Oakland California-based National Center for Science Education, a proponent of evolution.
What has become painfully clear is that most people who do not accept the theory of evolution are quite content to listen to those who claim it has holes, the ICR, AIG and others. As I noted in an earlier post, if some of these people would actually pick up a biology textbook, much of this would go away. But that is not the point: they think that evolution is evil. It simply cannot have scientific support. Mind you, this is what a good many people thought about atomic energy in the 1960s and 1970s—that it was evil and its use would only lead to sorrow. As Robert Oppenheimer read from the Bhagavad Gita at the Trinity site: "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." What got lost in the shuffle was that atomic energy existed regardless of what people thought. As Shel Silverstein wrote: "It's all the same to the clam."

The vote will happen some time in the next two days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don McLeroy and Sowing Atheism

Don McLeroy has gone on record as recommending the book Sowing Atheism: The Natonal Academy Of Science' Sinister Scheme To Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles.
The Texas Freedom Network has a post on the Don McLeroy/Sowing Atheism connexion, arguing that some of the viewpoints in his book recommendation are hair-raising. The book, by Robert Johnson Jr. is a free download from here. It is couched as a response to the NAS book Science, Evolution and Creationism. Here is a three-page example of the "scholarship" in the book. The passage is from Sowing Atheism, pages 65-67. Bold text is the NAS text to which he responds:
You two, however, have convinced thousands of pastors, and in turn, many members of their flocks, that human evolution from reptiles
is light. Jesus said, “If, then, the light that is in you is darkness, how
dense is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23). May God grant you repentance
to sober up out of the trap of the Adversary.

We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.

We’ve seen that the evolution of all life from a single cell from two
billion years ago allegedly consists of genetic copying mistakes
operated upon in some undefined way by the figure of speech known as
natural selection. In Chapter 3, we saw that there is no evidence for
this. There is nothing rigorous at all about speculation, and that’s what
it is. And Mr. X, your many factual, logical, and contextual errors show
that your own letter does not stand up to slapdash scrutiny, much less
“rigorous scrutiny.” You are obviously not a “rigorous scrutiny” kind
of guy, so how would you know what standards of fact and accuracy
molecules-to-man evolution meets or does not meet? Who told you
evolution stands up to rigorous scrutiny? Zimmerman?
Darwin and his theory of evolution do nothing but obscure
knowledge and take false credit for achievements in real science.

Complete this sentence: If it weren’t for Darwin’s theory of moleculesto-

man evolution, mankind wouldn’t . . .

To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to

deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance
to our children.

You exalt evolution above all. Has believing in it become the new

greatest commandment, displacing the foremost precept as expressed
by Christ in Mark 12:30?

You shall be loving the Lord your God out of your whole heart and
out of your whole soul, and out of your whole comprehension, and out of
your whole strength. This is the foremost precept.
You can offer no evidence for your premise that evolution is valid
and true, so you try to bring into disrepute the character of those who
disagree. According to the two of you (an atheist and an apostate), by
believing and upholding the Word of God, I and many others are
“deliberately” transmitting ignorance to our children. Once again, you
have it backwards. What kind of monster parents teach their children
that they’re descended from rodents and reptiles?

We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of

critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a
rejection of the will of our Creator.

Let’s make a bet. I’ll give you a million dollars for every passage
of Scripture you find that states or infers that God desires that we exalt
our flesh-minds and/or our wisdom over Him and His Word. You give
me just $100 every time I produce a passage from Scripture that says
the wisdom of God is supreme to the thinking and “wisdom” of men.
Which of us do you think will have a million dollars first?
I draw your attention to this Scripture:
. . . the disposition of the flesh is enmity to God, for it is not subject to the
law of God, for neither is it able. Now those who are in flesh are not able
to please God (Romans 8:7-8).
Your Clergy Letter reads as if this may be found in the Bible:
Thus saith the Lord, “I give unto thee critical thought, so that ye may
criticize my word, and ye may usurp the authority of the apostle Paul, but
yeah and verily, thou shalt not criticize evolution for it is the ultimate
theory-fact, and not merely one among many.”
The Scriptures admonish us over and over to have no confidence in
the flesh. You and your apostate letter-signers urge putting all
confidence in the flesh. Again, you have it just backwards. Feasting
upon human reason leads away from truth, not toward it.
If you accept molecules-to-man evolution, you’ve got to believe
you came into being by chance. What’s “the will of our Creator” doing
as a phrase in your letter? Where did He come from?

To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes

the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to
limit God, an act of hubris.

I’m self-taught in the ancient literature field, so it surprises me that
with your liberal academic background, Zimmerman, you don’t
understand what hubris is, because it originated as an ancient Greek
concept. Hubris is self-pride and overbearing arrogance, an abject lack
of humility. Proverbs 16:18 sums up the ancient and modern
understanding of hubris: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty
spirit before a fall.” You have it just backwards again. You are
maintaining that hubris is the failure to exalt oneself and the reasonings
of one’s mind over God.
Hubris was considered the greatest sin in the ancient Greek world.
Achilles’ treatment of Hector’s corpse, dragging it around the walls of
Troy, is a classic example of it. The words of the Bible claim to be
“Spirit and Life.” By denying the Bible’s inspiration, you kill it, and
like Achilles, you drag its deadened content before men, pumping your
fists and proclaiming from your chariot of reason the superiority of the
mind of man over the Word of God.
To reason means to lay facts in relation to one another so as to be
the basis of opinion. The Word of God claims to be absolute truth, and
in no way mere opinion.

The rest of the book has this general tone, which amounts to nothing more than calling people who accept evolution names and questioning their ancestry. The money quote is the one where he equates those who teach evolutionary theory to their children as "monsters." Now, to be fair, Richard Dawkins said something similar going the other way so the vitriol is certainly not one-sided. TFN puts their finger on the real crux of the problem, though:
As bizzarre and abrasive as some of these ideas may be, clearly any yahoo with a half-baked idea can write and self-publish a book. That is not the important point here. The real issue is the inability of the chair of the Texas State Board of Education to distinguish between legitimate, mainstream science - as represented by the National Academy of Sciences - and a lone crackpot with an openly religious agenda.
More evidence of his lack of qualifications for the post that he holds.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

High Court Smacks Down Anti-Evolution Suit

The U.S. Supreme Court denied without hearing a suit brought against the University of California by a woman who claims that their official position that evolution ("Darwinism") and religion can be compatible constitutes a religious position and is unconstitutional. Yup, you read that right. The report on the NCSE website notes:
Caldwell filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in 2005. But her suit was dismissed in 2006 because she failed to allege that she had federal taxpayer standing, failed to sufficiently allege state taxpayer standing, and failed to establish that she suffered a concrete "injury in fact." When she appealed the decision, the appellate court's decision concluded, "Accordingly, we believe there is too slight a connection between Caldwell’s generalized grievance, and the government conduct about which she complains, to sustain her standing to proceed." Reacting to the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case, a lawyer for the University of California told the Chronicle, "We believe the lower court rulings were correct, and we're glad this ends the matter."
I am sure that most state universities and colleges have official positions on the general and special theories of gravity, plate tectonics and quantum mechanics. Maybe we should file suits demanding that those not be taught. Incredible. Hat tip to LGF.

New Mexico "Academic Freedom" Bill Dies in Committee

The DI-sponsored "Academic Freedom" bill in New Mexico did not make it out of committee. Panda's Thumb reports that:
Similar legislation was put forth in New Mexico in 2007, but did not get out of committee. (See this Panda’s Thumb report for the details). That year, similar bills were carried by “Dub” Williams in the NM House, and Steve Komadina in the NM Senate. After hearing from several scientists and teachers opposed to the bill at the 2007 hearings, Rep. Williams graciously tabled his version of the bill. Sen. Komadina might have sponsored the bill again this year, but lost his 2008 re-election bid. The local Intelligent Design/Creationist community found a new supporter in Sen. Kent Cravens, who introduced the bill, “USE OF SCIENCE IN TEACHING BIOLOGICAL ORIGINS,” on Feb. 2nd, 2009. With the session ending soon, Sen. Cravens apparently asked that it be heard by the Senate Education committee on Monday, March 16th. But, by the time the hearing was supposed to start, word came that it had been cancelled.
Included in the post is a comparison of the New Mexico bill and the original DI bill from which it was cobbled. It is instructive.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Where Sussex County Goes, So Goes Hampshire County

According to a story in the Daily Echo, another UK county has drawn a line in the sand:
SOUTHAMPTON councillors have agreed that God should be kept out of the science classroom. They backed a motion demanding science and religion should continue to be taught separately. It comes as 70 Hampshire secondary schools have been issued advice on how to teach 11 to 14-year-olds creationism alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution.
A growing pushback?

Across the Pond A Schoolboard Takes a Stand

According to the Argus, The West Sussex County Council has officially taken a stand with regard to whether or not its school teachers can teach creationism:
Councillor Peter Griffiths, cabinet member for education and schools, was asked at a full meeting fo [sic] the council: “What is the policy of the County Council towards teachers in its employment who promote creationism and/or intelligent design rather than Darwin's theory of natural selection?” Coun [sic] Griffiths said: “It is acceptable to answer questions about creationism in science but not promote it.”

While probably of minimal impact here, it is nice to see an educational board stand up and fight.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Answers in Genesis Botches Evolution Again

Answers in Genesis is promoting the new Natural Selection exhibit at the Creation Museum and manages to completely get it wrong. They write:
Commonly cited as “evolution in action,” antibiotic resistance in bacteria provides a case study that we can use to illustrate four problems with equating natural selection and evolution. First, natural selection decreases genetic diversity, but evolution would require an increase in genetic information. Using the “super bacteria” example, a mutation in the antibiotic-resistant bacteria changes the protein that is the target of the antibiotics. The mutation results in a loss of genetic information—the mutated bacteria can no longer produce the normal protein. Such a decrease in genetic information would hinder evolution, not drive it.
Natural Selection acts on variation present in a species. The idea that mutations result in a loss of genetic information is absolutely backwards. Mutations increase genetic variability—whether for good or ill. Selection acts on that variability. If the mutation confers an advantage, it is positively selected. If not, it is negatively selected. All of this is driven by the environment. Further, the writer assumes that all mutations are bad. That simply isn't so. Most mutations are, in fact, neutral in terms of selection. The fact that we cannot produce our own vitamin C due to a mutation that we share with the higher apes does not have an impact on our fecundity; we continue to reproduce just fine. We have seen other examples where mutations have actually benefited. A mutation in the T-cell receptor in humans results in the HIV virus not recognizing it for what it is. The people with that mutation, whether exposed to the virus or not, never get AIDS. Examples such as these abound. Onward. They continue:
Secondly, natural selection is non-directional, and evolution requires directional change. In other words, we have never seen natural selection bring about a change that would transform fish into land-dwellers or reptiles into birds. Back to our bacteria example, the “super bacteria,” for all the hype they have generated, are still single-celled bacteria. They are no closer to being multi-cellular animals than the non-mutated bacteria.
Selection most certainly is directional. There is either positive selection for a trait or negative selection. At the tail end of the Devonian, there was selection for fishapods that could breathe both in water and out of it, and the fossil record records this transition from fish to land animals. There was positive, directional selection from the last of the small sauropods (including those that could not fly and yet had feathers for insulation) to the earliest birds. This is also recorded in the fossil record. That AIG and the ICR fail to recognize the transitional fossils for what they are does not change the fact that these fossils are exactly what is predicted from evolutionary theory.

The writer of this piece fails to understand that natural selection is only one aspect of evolution. Mutation is the driving force of new variation but population variation occurs in other ways as well. Gene flow between populations will change the genetic make-up of these populations, submerging bad traits. Genetic drift, where a small population is cut off from the main population tends to force traits that would not normally express themselves to do so. It also tends to allow traits to "fix" themselves in the population. Multitudinous studies have shown that evolution occurs faster in these populations than in larger ones. Natural selection acts on these main forces and concepts such as adaptive radiation and founder effect are direct outgrowths of how evolution works in populations. If someone at AIG would pick a basic biology book and read it, these misunderstandings would be cleared up in an instant. Sadly, there is little chance of that happening.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Update on Canada's Science Minister

LGF links a post on the Canadian Minster of Science called "Canadian Science Minister Update: Kinda." It is written by Phil Plaitt on the Discover blog. He writes:
Well, when asked the same question again, today he "clarified" his position:

“Of course I do,” he told guest host Jane Taber during an appearance on the CTV program Power Play. “But it is an irrelevant question.”

I’m calling shenanigans on him. Why? Because 1) he should have answered it in the first place — if, by his reasoning, the question was irrelevant yesterday, it still is today, and 2) it is an extremely relevant question, given that he was couching his answers yesterday in religious terms.

As I pointed out in my post yesterday, religion is irrelevant only if it doesn’t affect the job. But as we have seen over the past 8 years in the US, religion does indeed have a tendency to affect people’s decisions, especially, critically, if they are a creationist. Then it colors everything they do, including trying to overthrow the Constitution.

This is, perhaps, too harsh because there are many people who are religious for whom this kind of post would not pose a problem. Having said that, his point about the "flat earth"ness of many Christians in this country is well taken. The science community in this country is running a bit scared because of the huge PR machine that people like Ken Ham have going at megaphone levels. The fact that Goodyear is sort of speaking out of both sides of his mouth doesn't help things.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jonathan Kay Defends Gary Goodyear

Jonathan Kay is angry at the Globe's treatment of Canada's Science Minister, Gary Goodyear and characterizes it as a secular "witch hunt." See two posts down for context. He writes:
Canadians differ on whether a supernatural entity had a role in the creation of human life. In a 2007 Canadian Press-Decima Research poll, 26% of respondents said they believe in creationism, 29% picked evolution and 34% said they believe in some combination of the two.

But according to militant secularists -- given disgracefully prominent play by The Globe and Mail on the front page of yesterday's edition -- that's not good enough. They want everyone in society, or at least everyone leading this country, to dogmatically subscribe to the minority view that God had no role at all in human creation.

Well, no that's not what they want. They want good science education and research and to have a science minister who understands this. This is another example of a writer using subterfuge to mask the real issue—that Gary Goodyear might not accept one of the linchpins of science as science. Instead, what is used is a classic creationism/ID defense: criticism of educators who don't accept evolution equals criticism of their theology and promotion of atheism. There was nothing in the quote of Goodyear in the previous post that mentioned God not having a role in creation. All Goodyear said that was he didn't want to answer the question about his religious beliefs and (according to the story) that these had a bearing on his acceptance of evolution. Your average science educator has absolutely no interest in promoting atheism. They just want good science education.

Smallest Known Dinosaur in North America Discovered

CNN has a story about the discovery of Hesperonychus elizabethae, a dinosaur that was slightly smaller than a house cat. As relayed in the story:
Hesperonychus elizabethae, a 4.4-pound (2-kilogram) creature with razor-like claws, ran through the swamps and forests of southeastern Alberta, Canada, during the late Cretaceous period, the researchers said.

The diminutive dinosaur likely hunted insects, small mammals and other prey, perhaps even baby dinosaurs, said Nick Longrich, a paleontology research associate in the University of Calgary's Department of Biological Sciences.


Trouble Surrounds Canada's Science Minister

Canada's Minister of Science, Gary Goodyear appears to be uncomfortable with evolution. The story, picked up by Mostly Water notes:
Canada's science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution.

“I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
Whoa, time out. What does his religious persuasion have to do with evolution? Does he equate "belief" in evolution with atheism? If so, he is unqualified to judge biological science proposals—and, as such, should step down from his post. It is not an exaggeration that "nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution." Of course, we have to assume that was the question being asked. It wouldn't be the first time a news article was cut and pasted so as to distort. Still, if quoted accurately, it is a serious problem.

Ken Ham and Natural Selection

Answers in Genesis has made peace with natural selection, or so they say. Yahoo news has run an AP story by Dylan Lovan in which Ken Ham, founder of AIG states that creationists have always accepted natural selection:
A new exhibit at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum argues that natural selection — Darwin's explanation for how species develop new traits over time — can coexist with the creationist assertion that all living things were created by God just a few thousand years ago.

"We wanted to show people that creationists believe in natural selection," said Ken Ham, founder of the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis and frequent Darwin critic.

But there's a catch:
Ham said he agrees that natural selection can give an organism an advantage in its environment, but creationists do not believe that the process can lead to new species, such as fish evolving into amphibians.

Visitors to the exhibit are greeted by a large sign that reads: "Natural Selection is not Evolution."

This will be news to palaeontologists who, in the last couple of years have discovered dinosaurs with feathers that did not fly, frogamanders and fishapods (or fishibians, if you like). Saying that natural selection doesn't lead to new species is a somewhat circuitous way of saying that there are no transitional fossils. I think that, by stating the argument in the positive rather than the negative, he is hoping to catch some people napping and also to appeal to a larger group of people who aren't sure what they think about natural selection. He can also give the presentation a thicker veneer of "science." That it is nonsense might get lost in the translation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Meanwhile, Back in Texas...

A bit back (April of 2008), the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rejected the case of the ICR to award masters of science degrees—effectively the board wouldn't accredit them. The problem was, of course, that the entire scientific establishment recognizes that the "science" that come forth from the ICR does not stand up to even cursory scrutiny and the board knows this. The guidelines of the board can be found here. The opening paragraph reads:
Section 61.304 of the Texas Education Code prohibits a private postsecondary educational institution from granting or awarding degrees in the state of Texas unless the institution is issued a Certificate of Authority (COA) to grant such a degree by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (“Coordinating Board”).
A COA is an interim step for an institution seeking approval to offer degrees in Texas. A COA awarded by the Coordinating Board is a temporary authorization, valid for up to two years, that is predicated on the institution receiving formal accreditation from a Coordinating Board-recognized accrediting agency. An institution may seek limited, periodic renewal of their Certificate of Authority. However renewal is subject to the institution making demonstrable progress toward accreditation.
The document, itself, contains a timeline of events related to the ICR petition. Raymond Paredes wrote, in his ruling that:
My recommendation to the Board is based on two considerations, the first of which is that ICR failed to demonstrate that the proposed program meets acceptable standards of science and science education. As indicated in a faculty job announcement, ICR requires that applicants “be committed to young earth creation science and the Bible;” in its current general catalog, ICR states that its mission “is to study, teach and communicate the works of God’s creation.” Also in the catalog appears this statement: “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the Creation Week described in Genesis…and confirmed in Exodus….The creation record is factual, historical and perspicuous; thus all theories of origin and development that involve evolution in any form are false.” ICR’s catalog also states “The phenomenon of biological life did not develop by natural processes from inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created by the creator.” This statement runs counter to the conventions of science which hold that claims of supernatural intervention are not testable and, therefore, outside the realm of science.
Why is this coming back now? Because a state representative from Tyler, Texas, Leo Berman is proposing legislation to exempt the ICR from the Coordinating Board's rules. The story, in the Longview News-Journal, notes:
Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said his proposed legislation is intended to allow the Bible-oriented group to proceed without the coordinating board's blessing.

"Why are people who call themselves scientists afraid to hear two sides of a debate?" Berman asked Friday.

His proposal would exempt private, nonprofit educational institutions that do not accept state funding and state-administered federal funding from coordinating board rules.
It is distressing that a representative would attempt to circumvent a scientific body to push through a piece of legislation catering to the needs of a group who's work has been soundly criticized in the scientific community. The ICR, the DI and various state senators and representatives seem to not see the problem in politicizing science.

The subsidiary problem, of course, is state representatives meddling in areas of science in which they are manifestly unqualified to do so. When Rep. Berman states "Personally, I don't believe in evolution. I don't believe I came from a salamander that came out of a pond," he betrays a sharp ignorance of the very area in which he is attempting to legislate. He has been told that the ICR has good science and since they share his theological leanings, he supports them. He does not know that the "debate" has been conjured up by the ICR and like groups in an effort to "teach the controversy." This, despite the fact that there is no debate, no controversy. We might as well be debating whether or not the earth is flat. As I have said in the past, when politicians get involved in science education, the outcome is never good.

If the ICR does get exempted from the board's rules, what is to keep other organizations that are even less credible from doing the same? The article concludes:
Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, said the measure promotes a right-wing religious agenda.

"It would make Texas a magnet for unscrupulous private 'educational' companies that will want to offer students the opportunity to pay for bogus advanced degrees," Schafersman wrote on his group's Web site. "If H.B. 2800 became law, it would be a gold mine to every fly-by-night, degree-granting outfit in the country."

Harris Poll: Americans Flunk Basic Science

Science Daily has an article on a poll conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the California Academy of Sciences found some startling things:
  • Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
  • Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
  • Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water.*
  • Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.
The results were based on a poll of 1002 adults in December of 2008. The story continues:
"There has never been a greater need for investment in scientific research and education," said Academy Executive Director Dr. Gregory Farrington. "Many of the most pressing issues of our time—from global climate change to resource management and disease—can only be addressed with the help of science."
The amazing thing is that, with regard to the second bullet point, many Americans believe dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time because they were taught that. Beyond that, how would you not know there were 365 days in a year???? Amazing. Hat tip to LGF.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Paul Seely on Hugh Ross

In the ASA's journal Prospectives on the Christian Faith, volume 59, issue 1, Paul Seely addresses the corcordism of Hugh Ross. Ross' book Fingerprint of God was one of the first books that I read when I began to develop an interest in the science/creation question. The book is as much a demolition of young earth astrophysics models as anything but he also outlines Ross' ID position that the universe looks "tweaked." Too tweaked, in fact to have arisen by chance. Ross argues that, properly interpreted, The Bible "concords" with modern science. His is a distinctly non-evolutionary, progressive creation, old earth position.

In this article Concordism and a Biblical Alternative: An Examination of Hugh Ross’s Perspective, Paul Seely takes on this perspective. He points out the same thing that Carol Hill did, that when taken literally, the first verses of Genesis 1, which describe the creation of the universe, are out of order when viewed from a scientific perspective. He then addresses Adam:
Ross recognizes that in the Bible Adam is the first human being on earth; and unlike some concordists he does not attempt to establish a pre-Adamite theory. He admits that hominids go back over a million years and that Neanderthals existed in their usual time slot, but he argues that the Neanderthals were not true human beings nor ancestors ofAdam.
This view is problematic, since the evidence of Neandertals being separate species is equivocal. Ross argues that there is evidence of funerary and ritual behavior going back only 24 ky BP, a perspective that Randall White would certainly disagree with. Seely counters with this:
One problem with this is that since 1986, other altars have been found, two of which were made by Neanderthals. One was found at Bruniquel, France, which dates back at east 47,600 years.4 Similarly there is good evidence of Neanderthals sacrificing a deer in a Mousterian cave shelter in Lebanon.5 If altars signify the presence of truly spiritual beings, Neanderthals would have to be considered true human beings whether they are ancestral to Homo sapiens sapiens or not.
Concordance faces more serious problems in the dating of Adam. Here is where the "Adam is not literal" thoughts raise their ugly head in my brain. Humans created one or another stone tool technologies throughout their existence from the late Oldowan at 1.5 mya to the end of the Upper Palaeolithic around 15 kya. There were no iron tools or bronze workings of any kind before around 8-10 kya. Modern humans, on the other hand, make their appearance around 140-160 kya in North Africa—not the Near East (where they show up around 100 ky bp) and certainly not in Mesopotamia.

As far as the flood is concerned, he tasks Ross' acceptance of a local flood in which the ark came to rest in the low highlands of Urartu, a few hundred feet above sea level. He writes:
The meaning of Gen. 7:19, however, is quite different if it is left in context. The preceding verses paint a picture of the flood waters ever increasing in depth until they covered “all of the high mountains under all the heavens.” The phrase “under all the heavens” necessarily includes the country of Ararat since that country is part of the context (Gen. 8:4).11 And, the phrase, “all the high mountains” includes the high mountains of Ararat, not just the foothills. Hence, Gen. 7:19 means that the high mountains of Ararat were covered by the flood waters. On average, these mountains are 8,000 feet high and encircle a plateau one mile high. Consequently, the narrator is describing the flood waters as being over one mile high.
This, of course, presents a problem for the concordist position because, unless you jettison a literal read of the text, you are stuck with a local flood that was, well, quite a bit more than local. Seely, after having dispensed with other issues of (dis)concordance with scripture writes something profoundly important:
I think it is evident that God can morally accommodate his message to the pre-ingrained cultural ideas of the people to whom he is speaking, even when that accommodation does not agree with the actual facts. In addition, there is another factor bearing upon this issue. Scripture was given to make humans wise with regard to salvation, not science (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
He follows this by writing:
We must not forget that the various revelations in the Old Testament did not come to a people whose minds were a tabula rasa. Rather, they came to a people who had cultural ideas which were deeply ingrained before God’s revelation in the Old Testament ever came to them. These pre-ingrained cultural ideas invited and even sometimes demanded adaptations, which, like a missionary’s translation, may depart from strict adherence to the facts. In the case of Genesis 1–11, I have shown elsewhere that some of the content is certainly accommodated to the science of the times.
One of the things that Conrad Hyers notes in his writings is that if the text of the Primeval History is in sync with the science of the 21st century, then it is necessarily out of sync with the science of the 20th century, and 19th century, the 18th century and so on. Further, why would God write a scientific treatise to people who were trying to figure out where they were going and who they were? The Genesis creation story, followed by the flood and Tower of Babel stories simply unified the Hebrew people. The stories were necessarily similar to those of the Mesopotamian stories because that was their common heritage. Whether these stories were written down during the Exodus or appeared later in time during the exile is almost irrelevant. The Hebrews had the stories they needed at the time that they needed them and could feel unified in their worship of God.

The above exposition puts in much sharper focus how peculiar the literal reading of the young earth creation position really is. It is not enough that the science behind their writings does not accord with that of modern science. Even if there was evidence that the earth was created in the recent past, why would God not have composed truly new stories for his people? Why cloak them in the language and constructs of the surrounding peoples? The lack of historicity of the PH doesn't mean that God doesn't care about the credence of the Bible. It simply means he didn't intend it as a science lesson.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

More on the Michael Egnor's Letter from Pharyngula

PZ Meyers has pointed out a few things about Michael Egnor's letter that, in my frustration , I missed. Egnor writes:
Most Americans are creationists, in the sense that they believe that God played an important role in creating human beings and they don’t accept a strictly Darwinian explanation for life. And they think that they ought to be able to ask questions about evolution in their own public schools. They don’t share your passion for ideological purity in science classes.
To this, Meyers writes:
Note the open admission that the Discovery Institute's audience are the god-fearin' creationists, and that the people they regard as "on their side" are plain-and-simple, unmodified creationists, not just the usual Intelligent Design creationists. That's useful to see.
The DI is in danger of overplaying its hand. The testimony by Barbara Forrest and Robert Pennock at the Dover trial in 2005 clearly linked Intelligent Design with Christian backing, but that was never publicly acknowledged by the DI. Now it has been. Meyers continues:
I'm also confident that the people of Louisiana are a mix of the uninformed and the scientifically competent, and that many are good people who deserve better than the falsehoods institutions like the Discovery Institute will ladle out. It would be great to have more scientific conventions in New Orleans (if nothing else, because the cuisine is fabulous). However, when the government of the state promotes policies that are damaging to science, scientists have no choice but to reject them in any way they can.
The principle problem that I see here is that many evangelical Christians who have grown wary of the ICR (not sure how many that would be) might see the DI as their knight in shining armor and rally behind them, without knowing that they don't stand for any better science education than the ICR does. Beyond that, though, the "We don't need you. Take your ball and go home" attitude is petty and foolish and a disservice to Christians everywhere.

Search for Noah's Ark: The Lost Mountains of Noah

One of my friends just handed me a video that he showed in our Sunday School class last Sunday. It is called Search for Noah's Ark: The Lost Mountains of Noah and is part of the Bible Explorer's Series by the Base Institute. The film is by Bob Cornuke, who is listed on the back of the box as being a "biblical investigator and real life Indiana Jones." I have not had a chance to watch it yet, but here is a review from the Associates for Biblical Research. It is not kind. They have numerous complaints about the film and conclude their review thus:

On the sleeve of the video case it states that this video is a Dove Family Approved documentary. It is our opinion that this should not have been approved because the video is deceptive in its presentation of the facts, i.e. the map with the supposed boundaries of Urartu. In addition, it is factually inaccurate and based on a questionable eye-witness. Also, in the credits at the end of the video one of the authors of this article (Bill Crouse) is listed as an advisor. This was not authorized and he in no way wishes it to be seen as an endorsement of the material.

We have also noted how carefully at times statements are worded in the video. On the cover of the video box and the beginning of the video, they build up the fact that they are looking for Noah’s Ark. By the end of the video, they don’t claim they were looking for Noah’s Ark, but rather the Ed Davis object. One wonders if this is a very clever change in case somebody challenges the content of the video. Our opinion is that they have found neither.

If it was the motive of the producers to instill confidence among believers that the Bible is true, this sets a poor precedent, and could have the opposite result. Even worse it is a poor testimony to unbelievers.
I wonder if Cornuke asserts that the flood was universal or local. It seems to me that if he posits the location of the Ark in Iran, on Mount Suleiman, which is manifestly not in a flood plain of any kind, he must take the global route. That, of course, presents its own problems. I look forward to seeing it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

An Open Letter From the DI to the SICB

Michael Egnor of the Discovery Institute has written an open letter to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. He writes:
I have learned of your decision to boycott the state of Louisiana because of the recently enacted Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). The LSEA is a landmark academic freedom bill that allows teachers to use supplementary materials to teach controversial scientific theories without threat of recrimination. Your organization lobbied against this law, and has lobbied in support of censorship in public school science classes and in support of punishment of teachers who use supplementary materials to teach their students about scientific controversies. You have now announced your decision to change the planned venue for the 2011 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting from New Orleans to Salt Lake City in retaliation for the decision of the citizens of Louisiana to allow academic freedom in their science classrooms.

Your organization has now gone on record as opposing academic freedom in public schools. The formal alignment of several organizations of professional scientists — of which you are the most recent — with censorship of scientific discussion is an ominous development.

This is disingenuous and everyone knows it. Mr. Egnor couldn't care less about gravitational theory, germ theory or relativity theory. He cares only about evolutionary theory. That is the focus of these "academic freedom" bills. Having lost the court cases and having failed to successfully promote Intelligent Design, the focus of the DI is now to go in the back door and get "academic freedom" bills passed. He continues:
Most Americans are creationists, in the sense that they believe that God played an important role in creating human beings and they don’t accept a strictly Darwinian explanation for life. And they think that they ought to be able to ask questions about evolution in their own public schools. They don’t share your passion for ideological purity in science classes. They have a quaint notion that science depends on the freedom to ask questions, and their insistence on academic freedom is catching on. They don't want religion taught in the science classroom, but they know that students are not learning about all of the science surrounding evolution. Seventy-eight percent of Americans support academic freedom in the teaching of evolution in schools, and that number is rising fast — it’s up 9% in the past 3 years. People clearly resent your demand for censorship. After all, it’s their children in their schools, and they aren’t happy with a bunch of supercilious Darwinists telling them that they can’t even question Darwinism in their own classrooms. So if you’re going to boycott all the creationists who despise you, you’ll eventually have to hold all of your conventions in Madison or Ann Arbor. Keep up the arrogance and eventually you won’t have to boycott people at all. People will boycott you.
Here, haughtiness and arrogance have taken over. The SICB pulled out of New Orleans as a protest because they knew that the academic freedom bill, promoted by non-scientists, would seriously injure science education in Louisiana and they did not want to be a part of that. Additionally, he has taken the "50 million Frenchmen can't be wrong" approach. Guess what? Four hundred years ago, EVERYBODY thought that the earth was in the center of the universe. That didn't make it correct. Modern science now knows better. He continues:
Folks in Louisiana don’t actually care if the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology cancels its convention in New Orleans. There are a lot of other organizations that will be delighted to hold their conventions in cities you boycott. There are a lot of big organizations out there who don’t exactly like you. The National Association of Evangelicals represents 40,000,000 people and represents 40,000 churches. The Society for Comparative and Integrative Biology has 2300 members. Just one organization of evangelicals has 17 times as many churches as you have members. There are thousands of churches that are larger than your organization, and I’m sure many members would be happy to come to New Orleans for tourism or meetings.
Is that so? Here is what New Orleans CityBusiness had to say about that:
If allowing faith-based theories to make their way into the realm of state-sponsored education is part of the formula to create more jobs and prosperity in Louisiana, you would see the business community throw its full support beyond LSEA. It obviously wasn’t touted as an economic development initiative, but business interests are now learning that even the most innocuous measure can affect their livelihood.

What the governor and lawmakers need to realize is that while measures such as these may not appear to have a business impact on the surface, they could ultimately affect the state’s bottom line.
Let’s hope they keep this in mind before they make their next decision that puts their personal beliefs ahead of the overall interest of the state, its citizens and our economy.
The rest of the letter is full of misinformation and vitriol. It is worth reading as an example of current DI thought. Oh by the way, Mr. Egnor, every time you use the word "Darwinists," you lose just a bit more credibility.

Darwinian Censorship in Turkey

The Irish Times is reporting that apparently the ministry that oversees the science research funding in Turkey has requested that the journal Science and Technology remove the cover story on Charles Darwin. The March issue instead came out with a cover story on global warming. The story notes:

Newspapers and academics criticised the incident as meddling by the Islamic-rooted AK Party government, which passed a law last summer tightening its control of appointments to the Scientific and Technological Research Council (Tubitak).

“This incident makes it clear that Turkish science is in the hands of anachronistic brains who hold it in contempt,” Tahsin Yesildere, head of the Association for University Lecturers, said.
Harun Yahya would be happy. The amazing thing is where the source of this is:
Author of An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, Taner Edis points out that creationism has been taught as part of Turkey’s biology syllabus since the 1980s, when religious conservatives took control of the ministry of education and began “translating US creationist texts into Turkish and distributing them in schools”.
And I thought the US only exported goods and services. Now it is exporting creationism.

More on the Fossil Footprints

Despite ICR claims to the contrary, the new fossil footprints dated 1.5 mya tell us a wealth of information about the gait of early hominids. The story, by Robert Adler, in New Scientist reveals the following:"
Between 1.8 and 1.5 million years ago, H. erectus evolved into an ancestor very different to anything that came before," says Matthew Bennett, a geologist at Bournemouth University, UK, and part of the team that studied the footprints. Those differences included shorter arms, longer legs, and - the footprints show - a modern foot and gait.

That's important, he says, because the increasing mobility of H. erectus opened up a wider range of potential habitats. This can be seen in their long-distance transport of tools and occupation of drier and higher-altitude landscapes. In turn, the combination of increased mobility and tool use may have contributed to more efficient scavenging and increased meat consumption.
This is intriguing and adds to the "bushiness" of the human lineage. Robust australopithecines are still roaming around the countryside down to 1.1 mya. They appear to go extinct at that point. The last robust australopithecines in central Africa date to around 1.8 mya and shared the landscape with Homo habilis, before they, too went extint. This may be one of the reasons.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Meanwhile, A Bit North of Oklahoma...

Brian Morelli of the Iowa City Press-Citizen notes that a bill has apparently been introduced into the Iowa State Legislature that has all of the signs of being a DI-sponsored bill. It has gotten attention. He writes:

Professors across Iowa are rallying against a piece of state legislation that supports alternative teaching of evolution as a scientific view, such as creationism.

More than 220 people, including 56 University of Iowa professors, have signed an Iowa faculty petition against House File 183 -- The Evolution Academic Freedom Act, which was introduced this session by State Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll.

The bill maintains that alternate theories on evolution fall under academic freedom, which should be protected for teachers and students that want to present such theories as scientific views in the classroom.

Roberts thinks people misunderstand the intent of the bill, he said.

"It's more about the freedom that an instructor and students can engage in without fear of criticism, censure or fear of losing one's job."

Once again, the language is the same: the freedom to talk about "alternatives" to evolution without the fear of recrimination of any kind. They are, perhaps, a bit bolder in their language, actually calling it the "Evolution Academic Freedom Act."

I am going to propose a bill to the Tennessee state legislature that we teach alternatives to Newtonian/Einsteinian gravitation. I think we should also teach Aristotelian and Nordstromian gravitational thought. So what if these theoretical constructs have been shown to be wrong. We need to keep an open mind about these things.

Human Footprints Step on the ICR

The ICR has an article called "Ancient Human Footprints Look Modern" by Brian Thomas, who is a science writer. It is part of their "Honoring Charles Darwin: Evolution's Biggest Gaps" series. My first thought when I read the title was: "Yes...and?" He starts out thus:
Some scientists have estimated that sets of human footprints found on two separate but close sedimentary layers in Kenya are around 1.51 and 1.53 million years old1 and were made by humans like the “Turkana Boy,” an anatomically human fossil discovered within the same general area in 1984.2 But do these footprints clarify or confound the standard evolutionary explanations?
The referenced article is out of LiveScience and is called "The Shoe Fits!" The author, Jeremy Hsu, writes:
"We're seeing a very different hominid at this stage," Harris said, pointing to both an increase in size and change in stride during the relatively short time between Australopithecus (the first in this genus lived about 4 million years ago and the last died out between 3 million and 2 million years ago) and Homo erectus. The latter hominids would have been able to travel more quickly and efficiently over larger areas.
Thomas comments on this:
The obvious “humanness” of these footprints highlights the fact that clear distinctions exist between humans and other creatures. LiveScience reported that these prints have “modern foot features such as a rounded heel, a human-like arch and a big toe that sits parallel to other toes…By contrast, apes have more curved fingers and toes made for grasping tree branches.”2 For example, despite museum depictions of the extinct ape Australopithecus having fully human feet, fossils show that they had typical ape feet.3
The story being referenced here is Footprints to Fill, which appeared in the Scientific American news section. Here is the problem: that is not quite what the article states:

To get a toehold on the Laetoli problem, the researchers first compared the gaits of modern humans walking on sand with two sets of the fossil tracks. This analysis confirmed that the ancient footprints were left by individuals who had a striding bipedal gait very much like that of people today. The team then scrutinized naviculars of A. afarensis, H. habilis, chimpanzees and gorillas. The dimensions of the H. habilis navicular fell within the modern human range. In contrast, the A. afarensis bone resembled that of the flat-footed apes, making it improbable that its foot had an arch like our own. As such, the researchers report, A. afarensis almost certainly did not walk like us or, by extension, like the hominids at Laetoli.

But according to bipedalism expert C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University, other features of the australopithecine foot, such as a big toe that lines up with, rather than opposes, the other toes, indicate that it did have an arch. Even if it did not, Lovejoy contends, that would not mean A. afarensis was incapable of humanlike walking. "Lots of modern humans are flat-footed," he observes. "They are more prone to injury, because they lack the energy-absorptive capacities of the arch, but they walk in a perfectly normal way."

Thomas has selectively quoted the article to put forth the point that A. afarensis was not an early human because it did not walk like one. This, despite a wealth of fossil material that demonstrates otherwise, including a fully articulated knee joint that shows a bicondylar angle—a trait only known in humans. Thomas end thus:
Despite fossil interpretations that deliberately exclude the historical framework provided by God in the Bible, the evidence stubbornly insists that human evolution never took place, and that people were created fully-formed and fully-functional from the beginning.
Sheer nonsense. The fossil remains from A. afarensis show it to be a perfect transitional fossil. How does Thomas explain the intermediate nature of the palate, the semi-rotated premolar and slight diastema between the canine and premolar and the angular rib cage that are intermediate between the ape and human condition? The answer is probably that he can't because he is unaware of the morphology of this fossil human species. More misinformation from the ICR.

Articles cited:

Hsu, J. The Shoe Fits! 1.5 Million-Year-Old Human Footprints Found. LiveScience. Posted on livescience.com on February 26, 2009, accessed March 12, 2009.

Wong, K. August 1, 2005. Footprints to Fill: Flat feet and doubts about makers of the Laetoli tracks. Scientific American, 18-19. Accessed March 12, 2009