Thursday, April 30, 2009

Creation Ministries International Added

I have added Carl Wieland's organization, Creation Ministries International, to the left side in the list of Science/Faith links.

God Outside the Gaps

Andrew Brown of the Guardian has a profile of Kenneth Miller called God Outside the Gaps. He writes:
It turns out that Miller has exactly the opposite view of God to that of the Intelligent Designers; and, in fact, of many scientific atheists. For them, God is an explanation for what science cannot explain, and so the more that scientific knowledge grows, the less room or need there is for belief in God. For Miller, the evidence of design and of creation is not to be found in the things that science can't explain, but in the fact that there are regularities and patterns in the world, whose discovery means that science can explain things, and can hope to explain much more. In this view, each fresh scientific discovery becomes further evidence of design, and of the essential meaningfulness or comprehensibility of the universe.
Miller walks a fine line between throwing intelligent design out the front door and then opening the back door a crack to let some version of it in. Maybe that is what all of us theistic evolutionists do when it comes right down to it. How do you conclude the the universe was "created," and yet that it doesn't necessarily show overt signs of it?

When Creationists Can't Get Along

David Nason of The Australian reports on the settlement of a court battle royale, in which young earth creationists Carl Wieland and Ken Ham squared off. It is the stuff of tabloids:
In dispute were issues of breached copyright, duelling magazines, stolen mailing lists and how best to spread the creationist gospel. But details of the settlement are confidential, making it difficult to say exactly what this battle of biblical proportions finally achieved.

At least one thing seems clear: doing God's work can be messy business, even when your faith is the simple fairytale kind found in the Book of Genesis.

Closer to home, Dan Horn of The Kentucky Enquirer also has a story about the battle. He writes:
Much of the dispute centered on the soured personal and professional relationship between Carl Wieland, the founder of Creation Ministries, and Ken Ham, the leader of Answers in Genesis and the driving force behind the $27 million Creation Museum off Interstate 275 in Petersburg.

The two tried to settle their differences through a Christian mediator, but those efforts failed and the court fight was under way by 2005.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ordered the rivals to arbitration in February in a decision that described the fight as a power struggle for control of the creationist message.

"control of the creationist message." Let's think about that for a minute...I have personally never heard of one scientist taking another scientist to court over how to present the message of biological evolution. Now it is true that one scientist from time to time will swipe data from someone else, but that person usually gets marginalized quickly and it has nothing to do with how the science is presented. From a cursory perspective, the message that AIG presents and the one that CMI presents look almost identical.

A trip to CMI revealed, for example, a paper by Raymond Hall titled Darwin’s impact—the bloodstained legacy of evolution, which trots out the same fictions about how Darwin influenced the leading lights of despotism of the twentieth century. About Josef Stalin, he writes:
A friend later said Stalin became an atheist after reading Darwin. He was expelled from the college at 19 because of his revolutionary connections. After understanding that evolution provided no basis for conscience or morals, he felt free to torture and murder to whatever extent he chose to achieve his communist goals.
Talk about your low-hanging fruit. A read of ANY textbook on the history of the twentieth century will reveal that Stalin rejected Darwinian evolution in favor of Lamarckian evolution—promoted by Trofim Lysenko and that this set Soviet agriculture back fifty years. One wonders if these people do any research before they write these columns?

Books to Fight Creationists With

Little Green Footballs has a post on which books to read to defend against the arguments of creationists. I have read the Prothero book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. I have not read Jerry Coyne's book yet but have it on my list to buy. Mark Issak's The Counter-Creation Handbook is actually a compilation of web posts that showed up on the TalkOrigins site as An Index to Creationist Claims, but having it in book form would be worthy investment. I am unfamiliar with John Brockman's book but it would probably be a good read.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I weep for the state of modern academics. The University of Michigan Press has five books on mathematics and engineering. It has two hundred and fifty seven books on gender studies. How can you get people interested in science when it is devalued in this way?

Another Video on ERVs

This one has classical music in the background and really hammers the point home about how improbable it is that humans and chimpanzees just happen to coincidentally share the same ERVs. Entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. Enjoy.

Althought I cannot tell who made this video, here is where the information came from

C. M. Romano, R. F. Ramalho, and P. M. de A. Zanotto; Tempo and mode of ERV-K evolution in human and chimpanzee genomes. Arch Virol (2006) 151: 22152228

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Competition for Don McLeroy at College Station

LGF notes that Joel Walker, a Physics professor at Sam Houston State University is running for the school board in College Station, Texas. This is the home district of Don McLeroy, the man who is almost single-handedly responsible for watering down the Texas high school science standards and who, justly, earned national ridicule in the process. Walker's "Sound Science" page has this to say:
My initial interest in the school board grew from observing the debate in Austin surrounding formulation of the 2010-2020 TEKS standards for the sciences. I feel strongly that we must respect the considered judgments of our most distinguished scholars regarding curriculum content in all subjects, including evolutionary biology, geologic gradualism and big-bang cosmology. Several members of the State Board of Education have recently argued for teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of the standard understanding of these topics. This innocuously phrased mandate may even sound the ring of science in the ear of many citizens. However, imposing false ambiguity on hard-won knowledge is not valid scientific skepticism. Skepticism in the face of a preponderance of evidence is only unreasonable doubt.
Contrast this with McLeroy's now famous "I disagree with these experts. Someone has got to stand up to experts." If you live in Texas and you read this, vote for Joel Walker.

Creation and Darwin: A View from an Expatriate

David Blanks, who is Chair of the History Department at the American University in Cairo has written an article on the evolution/creation controversy for the Daily News Egypt. While little it new, the piece is informative and he views the controversy with curiosity, rather than with animus at any one side:
In the ensuing years, and even up until today, dozens of state legislatures and community school boards have repeatedly tried to ban the teaching of evolution in favour of creationism or intelligent design. Only a few years ago, for example, the Dover, Pennsylvania School District was taken to court by a group of parents when it required the presentation in the classroom of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. In 2005 the parents won their case in U.S. District Court and the members of the School Board who supported the intelligent design initiative were all defeated in the ensuing election. That same year, the Kansas State Board of Education held hearings in an attempt to demonstrate, as one board member put it, “that evolution has proven false and that intelligent design is science-based and strong in facts.” This was supported by the conservative Republican members of the board, including several born-again Christians, and the teaching of creationism proceeded in Kansas schools until it was eventually overturned by a newly elected board in 2007.

Darwin would have been amused by these ongoing controversies, but certainly not surprised. He himself harboured mixed feelings about the ways in which his own theories developed over time. In his autobiography, Darwin wrote about how he was teased mercilessly by the crew of the Beagle for his religious beliefs and for his habit of quoting the Bible to answer any unsolved questions. He also wrote of how his experiences examining the natural world led him in new directions.

One wonders, but for the death of his beloved Anne, would he have been the first theistic evolutionist?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Evolution in Ontario: Is it Being Taught?

Andrew Vowles of the Ontario Spectator laments that, despite the fact that the much-publicised trials about evolution are taking place south of the border, Canadian teachers aren't exercising their freedom to teach it. He writes:
Look for evolution in the Ontario science curriculum and you might be forgiven for thinking that the creationist side had won.

The topic shows up as an explicit unit only in Grade 12 biology, which is not a required course. Some students come across it in earth and space sciences, another Grade 12 elective. Informally, evolution must surely crop up in middle or high school during discussion of genetics, taxonomy, diversity or similar topics.

Still, only a relative handful of students encounter any in-depth discussion of evolutionary mechanisms and the scientific evidence for them.
I wonder if this is an example of "don't ask, don't tell," with regard to the topic. Maybe these teachers feel it is just better to leave well enough alone, rather than face the increasingly litigious creation camp.

Does Ape Behaviour Give Clues About Past Human Behaviour?

It has always been pretty much of a given that studies of current ape behaviour will lead to an understanding of past human behaviour. As Dan Jones of the New Scientist relates, though, understanding when we became human is harder than one might think:
Anyone trying to understand our origins soon realises that no one thing pushed our ape ancestors across the threshold of humanity. It is difficult to pin down what makes us human anyway. We walk upright on two legs, with disproportionately large brains held high, communicating in spoken languages, navigating the complexity of human social life, producing sophisticated tools and artefacts, and creating culture. The story of how we became human is woven from many strands.
It has also been long thought that the evolution of humans from their primate ancestors took place during a cooling/drying trend in which the forests retreated. While the monkeys like baboons adapted to the savannah and chimpanzees and gorillas took to the jungles, humans exploited the forest/fringe area. Much of the story lies in changing behaviour:
[Michael] Plavcan points out that size dimorphism can only persist if the biggest males can monopolise females and so pass on their genes at the expense of smaller males. That cycle can be broken if females change their behaviour in a way that makes it more difficult for a single male to monopolise them. If that happens, more males become able to pass on their genes, reducing competition for females and removing some of the pressure to be big, leading to a reduction in size dimorphism. The decreasing size differences of our ancestors "tells us that the way females behave is changing", Plavcan says.
Very interesting. Read the whole thing.

Darwin in Malibu

The Nashville Tennessean has an article on a play by the Tennessee Repertory Theatre called Darwin in Malibu. As Fiona Soltes writes:
The piece involves a fanciful meeting of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford, some 120 years after Darwin's death. In real life, Huxley was a great proponent of Darwin's theories of evolution, and Wilberforce, a great opponent. They famously butted heads in an 1860 debate, at which Darwin was not present. Now, however, he is present — but the question has become where that "present" actually is.
Rene Copland, the repertory director states:"
My mother always told me there were three things that were not to be discussed in polite comedy," he says. "Religion, sex and politics. I found later on that those were three of the subjects that I always want to discuss. This play combines all three, which makes it my dream show."
The play is being given at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Johnson Theater on May 16.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Link Between Land Animals and Seals/Walruses

Yahoo News is reporting the discovery of an otter-like animal that was one of the animals making the transition back to water:
One expert called it "a fantastic discovery" that fills a crucial gap in the fossil record.

The 23 million-year-old creature was not a direct ancestor of today's seals, sea lions and walruses, a group known collectively as pinnipeds. It's from a different branch. But it does show what an early direct ancestor looked like, said researcher Natalia Rybczynski.

The fossil was found on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic, bolstering the notion that the far north was an early center of pinniped evolution, she said.

Rybczynski, a researcher at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, and colleagues from the United States report the find in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

They named the creature Puijila darwini ("pew-YEE-lah dar-WIN-eye"). That combines an Inuit word for "young sea mammal," often a seal, with an homage to Charles Darwin. The famed naturalist had written that a land animal "by occasionally hunting for food in shallow water, then in streams or lakes, might at last be converted into an animal so thoroughly aquatic as to brave the open ocean."

Yet another link in the chain. Yay!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

McLeroy Position in Jeopardy

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the reappointment of Don McLeroy may not be as done a deal as was widely thought, thanks to the efforts of two State Senators:
Democratic senators Kirk Watson of Austin and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso challenged McLeroy over his leadership during a number of controversial Board of Education decisions, including the recent adoption of new science curriculum standards that critics say undermine the teaching of evolution.

Shapleigh said he plans to have McLeroy separated from the others when his nomination comes up on the Senate floor so that it could be debated and voted on individually.

“You’ve created a hornet’s nest like I’ve never seen,” Shapleigh said, noting that 15 bills - “the most I’ve ever seen” - have been filed during this legislative session to strip various powers from the State Board of Education.

Although he has been reappointed for the headship, he has to be confirmed by the senate and get two-thirds votes from the floor. He does need to be replaced.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Neandertal Birth: No Rotation?

According to a story in Science, Neandertal neonates likely did not turn in their mother's womb before birth. The story, by Ann Gibbons states the case this way:
Collaborating with Jean-Jacques Hublin at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Weaver got permission to make computed tomography-scans of the pelvis, which is kept at the British Museum in London. The two researchers were able to refit the pieces of the pubis, ischium, and ilium together in a three-dimensional, virtual reconstruction. They also used landmarks on the pelvic fragments to compare the pelvis to those of modern humans--and to predict the size and shape of the missing pieces, such as the sacrum and dimensions of the pelvic outlet.

The reconstruction suggests that the pelvis of the Tabun Neandertal was widest from side to side all the way down the birth canal, more like that of Homo erectus or australopithecines than modern humans. And that means that although Neandertal mothers still had difficult births because of their babies' large heads, their babies did not rotate in the womb, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Getting smaller is not always a good thing.

Don McLeroy Defends Himself

The Dallas Morning News has an article on Don McLeroy in which the embattled Texas State School Board members defend himself against charges he is trying to get creationism in the schools. The Morning News' Terrence Stutz writes:
Under sharp questioning from members of the Senate Nominations Committee, the College Station Republican said that although he holds creationist views – such as that the earth is only 6,000 years old – he has never acted to have creationism or "intelligent design" taught in science classes or textbooks.

"I don't see any way that I am trying to impose my religious views on anyone," he said.

Apparently, this is not enough to sink his candidacy, however:
Despite the criticism, the nominations committee was expected to recommend to the full Senate that it confirm McLeroy's appointment as chairman of the education board by Gov. Rick Perry. The panel took no vote Wednesday.

Among those urging senators to reject the nomination was Southern Methodist University anthropology professor Ron Wetherington, who asserted that McLeroy has used his position to push creationist views – including the appointment of three evolution critics to a six-member committee of experts that advised the board on science standards.

It is difficult to reconcile what McLeroy says here with what he is on record as having said about evolution and the main stream sciences as a whole.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A New Look at Homo floresiensis

LiveScience has an article on the new hominid Homo floresiensis that the press is calling a "Hobbit." Here is the picture from the article.

Most, like me, are astounded that it lived only 20 000 years ago. As the article states:
Yet its anatomy seems to be primitive. Many Homo floresiensis features, such as the shoulder, wrist, jaw and teeth, more closely resemble earlier hominin species such as Australopithecus afarensis ("Lucy") than modern humans.

"It's kind of the single most fascinating fossil species because it's so new and so surprising. It's something that's not quite been figured out," said Nick Blegen, a graduate student studying archaeology at the University of Connecticut who traveled to see the skeleton with his advisor and some other students.

"When you hear something is small, it's hard to picture it, but seeing it you get a sense of what the anatomy was like," he said.

The Hobbit probably stood around 3 feet 5 inches (104 centimeters) tall, and weighed between 66 and 77 pounds.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The ICR Criticizes the THECB

The ICR has an article on their website called Censorship in Texas: Fighting Academic and Religious Discrimination by James Johnson J.D. He writes:
Dr. Raymund Paredes, in his official capacity as Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, has assumed and officially favored his personal viewpoint that the Big Bang was an "astonishing event" that "was initiated some 14 billion years ago,"1 and imposed that personally-held belief on a private school. No eyewitness or forensic evidence was presented by Dr. Paredes last April to support his assumption; he relied only on his ardent belief in this theory that is professed by some scientists, but not all.
The call for "eye witness" information is a variant of the Ken Ham "Were you there?" argument, implying that without an eye witness account, we have no evidence that some event occurred. This statement displays a basic misunderstanding of science, and is an astounding statement for someone with a degree in jurisprudence. Has he never been in a courtroom where the prosecution reconstructed a capital case in front of a jury?

But is there religious discrimination? As Paredes, himself wrote in the final ruling:
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

If it had been me, I would have written that the science standards of the ICR are unacceptable and untestable and left it at that. It is not like there is no evidence for that. By dragging in the fact that they are biblically-based, Paredes brings in a possibly legitimate discrimination case. No mention of the fact that it is biblically-based, no case.

The arrogance of the last paragraph is truly breath-taking:
Expect to see more about ICR in the news as we seek justice. Now is a good time to pray for ICRGS, for due process, and especially for the God-ordained leaders involved in applying the law to the facts that are placed before them (Romans 13:1-7).
How does Dr. Johnson know the religious backgrounds of the people on the board? How can he assume they are not "God-ordained?" I am an evangelical Christian and I would have voted the same way they did. How would Dr. Johnson feel if another Christian referred to the ICR as a cult? There are some out there that view them and the flat earth movement in the same vein. Amazing.

Darwin's Rottweiler

Scott LaFee of the San Diego Union Tribune has an interview with Richard Dawkins in which Dawkins waxes about Charles Darwin. Of evolutionary theory, Dawkins says this:
The power of a theory can be measured by the amount it explains divided by the amount that must be assumed for that explanation. A theory that needs to make hundreds of assumptions is not much better than a description of what you observe. A powerful theory is one that can explain lots and lots of observations while hardly making any assumptions to do so.

Darwin's theory is huge because it explains everything about life but needs to assume only the extremely simple idea of heredity, competition between hereditary elements, variation. And really, all of those things follow naturally. If you have heredity, you can't help but have errors in copying – mutations – which means you can't help getting competition. The assumptions Darwin needs to make are almost negligible.

Remember what the ICR said about evolutionary theory:
"Notion" is an appropriate description; "theory" is too generous. For the philosophy of science called "evolution" is just that--a philosophical system of belief that cannot be substantiated by any observable evidence, either in action today or through nature's record of the past. Even Darwin admitted that certain evidence might later be uncovered that would contradict his conclusions.
And none has. Oops. Onward. Along the way, without naming names, he takes a pot shot at creationism:
I'm usually very patient and kind to anybody who genuinely doesn't know something and wants to be taught. I enjoy explaining things, and I will put myself out to explain something if somebody doesn't know and would like to know.

But people who use devious tricks to win arguments, who are not actually concerned with facts and the truth, if I meet somebody with a closed mind or who knows the truth and is using dishonest tactics to avoid it, then perhaps I could be accused of a scorched-earth approach.

I have to confess the dishonesty is starting to get to me, also.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Quote of the Day

Socratic Gadfly has the quote of the day. With regard to the fact that many deride evolution by calling it a theory:
Isaac Newton developed a “theory” of gravitation. I cordially invite you all to see if it’s “just a theory” by walking off the top of the TXU building here in downtown Dallas.
Don't think I'll test that one today.

ICR Sues State of Texas for Discrimination

The Institute for Creation Research has filed suit in District Court in Dallas to have the decision made by the Texas Higher Education Board to deny them degree-granting status overturned. As Holly Hacker of the Dallas Morning News writes:
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Dallas, alleges that the higher-education agency rejected the degree program because of the institute's claim that scientific evidence shows the earth is only 6,000 years old.

Among the institute's arguments in the lawsuit: "The monopolistic realities of the science education market in Texas (and in America generally) would limit creationist learners to science education opportunities from evolutionist graduate schools."

It says the institute is "the only graduate school which specializes in creationism-informed science education."

"Creationism-informed science education." This is a euphemism for the young earth six-day creation that the organization teaches. Freespace has more on this:
Anyway, the allegations are that THECB has violated various constitutional rights by denying it certification on the basis of its religious viewpoint. ICR argues, among other things, that Chapter 61 of the Texas Education Code is unconstitutional. That chapter establishes the THECB and gives it the authority to regulate the issuing of “degrees” as that term is statutorily defined. No person or institution, whether public or private, may issue a degree—that is, a document that includes words like “Bachelor’s Degre” [sic]—without obtaining state permission first.
As Mr. Sandefur points out, there are legitimate first amendment rights that are potentially involved in this issue. The problem, of course, is that the ICR doesn't teach real science and the THECB knows this. The vote in this matter was 12-0. That does not suggest a smattering of different ideas on the issue. That is not the only problem. The ICR suit asks the court that the THECB be required to approve their curriculum:
That said, what ICR wants isn’t just the right to issue its own diplomas; it also wants the court to order THECB to give it certification. Now, certification is more than permission to issue degrees; it’s also a seal of approval. And while anyone has the right to publish what he likes, nobody has the right to a state-issued seal of approval on that thing. What ICR wants is respectability, without earning it, and without having a constitutional right to it.
It is difficult to see how this suit will prevail. The state can always trot in a wide range of scientists who can testify to the nonsense that the ICR teaches, framing the discussion not in terms of First Amendment issues but rather sound science policy. It is interesting/disturbing to see groups like the ICR turning to the courts instead of the arena of public appeal to get their ideas put into law. Normally a hallmark of the left, increasingly, conservative groups are seeing that this is fertile soil and are jumping on the bandwagon. This does not bode well. His point about the ICR demanding respectability is also a trademark of creationism groups and is similar to the "teach the controversy" tactic employed by some to give the YEC model an air of legitimacy that modern science, correctly, rejects.

Pastafarians Fail in Quest

The Reading, Pennsylvania chapter of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has failed in its bid to get their logo on the top of Mt. Penn Fire Tower. Al's Blog has it:
Don Spatz devotes a few paragraphs in today's Reporters Notebook to a petition by the Reading Chapter of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to convince mayor Tom McMahon to mount an illuminated display of its god -- the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- on the Mount Penn fire tower.

If you had read it hear first, you would think this is satire, but it's not. Some people do indeed belong to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an organization meant to counter what they feel is the absurdity of intelligent design.
That still doesn't mean it isn't satire. The problem with the petition? No one would sign it. As the church, themselves write:
"We wish to remain as anonymous as possible since we are employed in this community and would like to keep it that way."
Welllll. So much for standing up for what you believe!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Joint Reasons To Believe/American Scientific Affiliation Meeting

There will be a joint Reasons To Believe/ASA meeting on May 12, in Lexington, MA. Here is the abstract from Dr. Randy Isaacs:
If science and Christian faith are in ultimate harmony, why is there so much conflict today in our school boards, churches, classrooms, and courtrooms? The metaphor of war has been used since the late 19th century to describe the severity of the conflict. The real war is not between science and Christianity but between different religious perspectives, with science as the weapon of choice. Evolutionism, creationism, and the Intelligent Design movement are some of the participants in this religious war between metaphysical naturalism and theism. By examining the motivation behind these movements, we can derive a better understanding of the relationship between science and our Christian faith. Science and religion must be presented in the proper perspective in our educational system.
I wish I had the time and money. I would certainly go to this, especially for the possibility of listening to what RTB finds objectionable about evolution. It will be a rockin' time. Hopefully, there will be a meeting summary produced.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

An Evolving Creation

A few days ago, I posted the link to a video on evolution by Jeremy Mohn that is hosted by Stand Up 4 Real Science. Here is a link for Jeremy's home page, An Evolving Creation. Like the author of this blog, Jeremy is a Christian. He is also a biology teacher. He writes this on his About page:
God, the Creator of all things, knows the intimate details of Creation inside and out. We humans can only hope to attain even the tiniest level of understanding in comparison to God. Yet, I believe it is not God's desire that we intentionally ignore the details we do uncover simply because they seem to go against our traditional notions of the divine nature. Indeed, God is bigger than any human conception could ever be. Instead, I believe we should follow the details wherever they lead us, knowing that God will never disappear, even when the knowledge we gain forces us to rearrange the theological furniture in our heads.
As I mentioned in the post on his videos, they are very good tools to use for learning how evolution works. Another Christian who understands the evidence for evolution. Thank you Jeremy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Neandertal Subgroups

Science News reports on a study by Virginie Fabre, Silvana Condemi and others which has suggested that, based on mitochondrial DNA studies, the Neandertal group of archaic Homo sapiens in fact consisted of three diferent subgroups. The story notes:
The new study confirms the presence of three separate sub-groups and suggests the existence of a fourth group in western Asia. According to the authors, the size of the Neanderthal population was not constant over time and a certain amount of migration occurred among the sub-groups. The variability among the Neanderthal population is interpreted to be an indirect consequence of the particular climatic conditions on their territorial extension during the entire middle Pleistocene time period.
The article is published in the Public Library of Science here. Independent research by myself and others has also suggested this. Neandertals such as Gibraltar and Monte Circeo, from Italy show less "cold adapted" traits than northern European Neandertals. The faces are a bit smaller and less prognathic, the result of which was that they were closer to modern humans in morphology than their northern counterparts.

Science Daily Link

I have added the Science Daily evolution news link to the left side of the blog in the "Science and Faith Links" section.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lauri Lebo on Texas

Lauri Lebo, the reporter who worked for the York Daily Record when the Dover School Board trial occurred in 2005 has written up her thoughts on the Texas School Board decisions about the science standards. Along the way, she shows us a picture of "the elusive dog-cat:

Before you laugh, remember that my minister remarked that he was skeptical about evolution because he had never seen a "dog give birth to a cat." My minister is a very intelligent man, simply uneducated in some areas. The problem is that these ideas come from people who do, in fact, know better but propagate the ideas anyway. She writes:
After ignoring a petition from fifty-four scientific and educational societies urging the board to reject language that misrepresents or undermines the teaching of evolution, the board adopted a new standard that directs students to “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records.”

It also passed another amendment that says students will “analyze and evaluate the scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell.”

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, said “They’ve opened the door to junk science.”

He said the “complexity of the cell” is undoubtedly an invitation to include language in the textbooks about intelligent design—the idea that life is too complex to have evolved and therefore demands a divine guiding hand. And the phrase “sudden appearance” and “stasis” are codes for the Genesis account of creation in which living creatures didn’t evolve, but appeared fully formed in the Garden of Eden.

The amazing thing is that anybody that actually works in the fossil record or is a field biologist knows that these ideas are malarkey. Texas School Board head Don McLeroy has already admitted he has no interest in learning about these areas of science. He doesn't trust the experts. How do you get through that mindset? Especially when science is not the issue:
Teaching students to critically examine the evidence is a laudable goal. But that’s not what this is about. If it were, McLeroy’s fellow board member Ken Mercer would never display such an astonishing ignorance of even a most rudimentary knowledge of evolutionary theory with the argument, “Have you ever seen a dog-cat, or a cat-rat?”
The problem that I have with Don McLeroy, Ken Mercer, Cynthia Dunbar and Barbara Cargill (who STILL hasn't written me back) is not that they are uneducated about evolution. It is that they choose not to educate themselves about it because, deep down inside, they have this misguided notion that it is antithetical to belief in God. For someone who is a member of a state school board, tasked with approving the educational curriculum for the state, such a position is unconscionable.

Ben Stein, Liberty University and the Evangelical War on Evolution

This might not ordinarily make the news except that it relates to/resonates with something that I read last night on Steve Martin's site. Christa Desrets of the Lynchburg News Advance reports that Ben Stein is being asked to give the commencement address at Liberty University. Stein was the host of the movie Expelled! and has also had a career as a speechwriter for several presidents and an acting career (Ferris Buehler's Day Off, The Mask). But according to Jerry Falwell, that is not why he is being asked to speak:
Falwell said Liberty welcomes Stein’s views.

“They rejected him because he was anti-evolution,” he said, “and our community will embrace him for the same reason.”

They, I guess, being the popular press and mainstream scientists. In his paper Why the discussion matters, Martin asks why it should matter what evangelicals think about evolution. It is largely true that most practicing scientists could care less whether or not there are religion classes in schools. They are mostly happy to go about their business doing science. That is not true on the other side, however. Martin correctly notes that there is an "Evangelical War on Evolution." He writes that, while dialogue is the ideal:
Unfortunately in the real world the ideal is not always possible. What if one group of Christians considers another group’s origins view not only wrong, but also diametrically opposed to the gospel? What if our origins view is condemned as heretical, and our accusers refuse to acknowledge that we belong to the body of Christ? How can there be any mutual understanding in this situation?
Falwell's perspective seems to be pervasive. I am reminded of Don McLeroy's comment "I disagree with these experts. Someone has got to stand up to experts" as if somehow being an expert in a particular scientific discipline automatically made you evil.

Steve's whole set of articles is a wonderful read, full of observations and questions that we, as scientists and Christians ought to be asking ourselves and others. The DI and others have launched a "crusade" against evolution. Like Urban II, they feel that they are tasked by God to remove the scourge of evolution from society. Falwell, in his Monday morning address stated about Stein:
“He has served as a college professor, attorney, author, speechwriter, and even an actor but the most compelling reason for Liberty University’s choice this year is this man’s work in exposing the evils and dangers of Darwinism through the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” Falwell said. “This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and a fitting time to have Mr. Ben Stein bring our commencement address.”
Would Mr. Falwell recognize evolutionary theory if it were sitting next to him on a bench? Doubtfully. That doesn't matter as long as the charge can be led.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Different Take on the Problem in Turkey

Debora MacKenzie has an article for NewScientist on the rise of creationism in Turkey but suggests that this may not be the problem that people see it be. The recent controversy involves the pulling of an issue of the journal Science and Technology because it had a cover story on Charles Darwin:
Whether the cancellation was an administrative glitch, censorship, or just an attempt to sidestep controversy, the row is highly revealing. Evolution is a lightning-rod issue in Turkey. Every leading newspaper reported the story. The Turkish Academy of Sciences called for an investigation and for Cebeci to resign (neither seems likely, although another senior TÜBITAK official resigned in protest).

Scientists, who mostly suspect censorship, demonstrated in Ankara; readers returned their March issues of Bilim ve Teknik. New Scientist's blog raised impassioned comments from Turks.

Those at the centre of the fuss say it portrays Turkey in the wrong light. "I am sad to think that people are seeing my country through this incident. Most people are secular," says Atakuman. Cebeci adds: "The outside perception of these events as censorship of science has caused great sorrow at TÜBITAK."

TÜBITAK is The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey. The vocal presence of Adnan Oktar a.k.a. Harun Yahya cannot be good, though.

Early Humans, Climbing and Ankle Rotation

It seems that when hominids began walking on two legs, they lost the ability to expertly climb trees, according to Jeremy DeSilva of Worcester State College in Massachusetts. In an article in LiveScience by Clara Moskowitz, she writes:
DeSilva videotaped wild chimpanzees — our closest living animal relatives — in Uganda to study their bodies while climbing. He measured the angle of dorsiflexion, or how far the ankle could rotate so that the toes point upward, and found that chimps can make much more extreme ankle rotations than modern humans.

To investigate whether early hominins were more like modern humans or chimpanzees, DeSilva analyzed the ankle bones in fossils of human ancestors at various times from 1.5 million to 4 million years ago. He discovered that early humans during this span have dorsiflexion ranges similar to those of modern humans, and couldn't have climbed trees in quite the same way as chimps do, if they climbed at all.

Randy Susman will have something to say about this, I am sure.

Texas Legislators Put Their Foot Down

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Stephanie Simon reports that Texas legislators have had it:
Texas state legislators are considering reining in the Board of Education amid frustration with the board's politically charged debate over how to teach evolution.

The board last month approved a science curriculum that opens the door for teachers and textbooks to introduce creationist objections to evolution's explanation of the origin and progression of life forms. Other parts of the curriculum were carefully worded to raise doubts about global warming and the big-bang theory of how the universe began.

While the science standards have drawn the most attention, the 15-member elected board has been embroiled in other controversies as well. Last year, it rejected a reading curriculum that teachers had spent nearly three years drafting. In its place, the board approved a document that a few members hastily assembled just hours before the vote.

Some lawmakers -- mostly Democrats -- say they have had enough.
Some of the proposals would actually strip the board of any role in approving standards or textbooks. It has, however, been suggested that doing that may not solve the problem:
"As crazy as the Texas Board of Education is, there are just as many crazies, percentage-wise, in the state Legislature," said board member Pat Hardy. Another member, Cynthia Dunbar, said the board's fierce debates should be seen as a sign that all views are well represented.
Hidden behind Ms. Dunbar's smokescreen is the fact that not all viewpoints are equally valid. Ideas that have no scientific backing should have no place on the table, despite what Ms. Dunbar thinks.

Ms. Dunbar, if you will remember, suggested to the Texas Board of Education that Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Werner Arber was a "Darwin Skeptic" on the strength of an ICR paper by Jerry Bergman. Here is Dr. Arber's response. He, in no way, qualifies his support of evolution.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stand Up 4 Real Science

Jeremy Mohn has some evolution videos at Stand Up 4 Real Science that are very well done and devastating to the anti-evolutionary position. They are fairly short. Start with the first one, here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Evolution Vs. Creation Discussion Board

By way of a comment to this blog, I located a discussion board called "Creation Vs. Evolution" that is, according to the boilerplate: "Dedicated to helping develop a better understanding of both sides of the issue, the EvC Forum plays host to the ongoing debate." The owner of the site states that neutrality is the goal but, in the interest of full disclosure, is pro-evolution. I came across it looking at a post on ERV viral insertions, yet another piece of evidence of common descent. The post is a bit long, but quite good and very convincing.

ERVs are endogenous retrovises that insert themselves into the DNA of the host organism. Most of the time, this is successful and there is more than some suspicion that some ERVs are responsible for MS and some forms of cancer. Sometimes the insertion doesn't work, though and fragments of the non-functional ERV are left over in the host's DNA and can be spotted as markers. turns out that humans and the higher apes share some of these markers, adding yet more evidence for common descent. The author writes:
Some have argued that ERV’s are not the result of viral infections but instead are the result of a supernatural design process. Firstly, the viral genes found in mammals today are very similar (99% to 75% homology) to viral genes that we see today. This evidence supports the origins of ERV’s as viral. No other mechanism, besides viral infection, has ever been observed that results in an ERV. Secondly, the argument could be made that if ERV’s are all focused on the design of the organism that a difference in ERV’s would make a noticeable difference in design. As it turns out, humans differ in genomic ERV content. That is, some people have ERV’s that other people don’t. [2] Since we don’t see any difference in design between these groups of people it would seem that ERV’s are not necessarily there for design purposes only. However, ERV’s have been suspected as playing a role in many functions, such as placental development in mammals. On the other hand, ERV’s have also been suspected of causing multiple sclerosis [3] and susceptibility to cancer. Most scientists have come to the conclusion that ERV’s act as random mutation events in that most ERV’s are neutral and some have beneficial or detrimental effects on the individual. If they are part of some design process then they are ineffective in causing design differences in most cases. Also, a designer would not be forced to make the pattern of similar ERV’s between species follow what is found in the fossil record. That is, a designer would not be forced to follow the rules set forth by common ancestory and the theory of evolution.
Good points, all. It is interesting when a bit of evidence not only supports evolution but is also antithetical to ID. the comments are also quite interesting.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Doesn't look like you can so, for now, the ads stay off.

Not Sure About this

I have added AdSense to the left hand side in the hopes that I can actually steer people to good science jobs or things like that. If I can't configure which ads run over there, I will remove it, especially since I don't give a rip about IE 8.0. 7.0 was bad enough.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Funny thing, that.

I just did a post on Hugh Ross and evolution and linked to Theodosius Dobzhansky's American Biology Teacher lecture of 1973. In a case of "Elementary, my dear Watson," I have discovered that the phrase "nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution" is actually the title of the paper and he never actually uses the phrase in the text.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Hugh Ross on Evolution

In light of adding Reasons to Believe to the links bar on the left side of the blog, I decided to look more closely at some of the articles, especially since they have staked out an anti-evolution position. This is not so with most old earth groups, although the DI is a mixed bag in that respect. Hugh Ross writes a paper called "Creation vs. Evolution: Why a Model Is Essential."

Funny, I thought evolutionists already had a model. Oh well, no matter.

On this subject, Ross writes:
The public debate about teaching intelligent design has exposed widespread confusion both inside and outside the church about how the scientific enterprise operates. One of the most frequent complaints scientists make about the Intelligent Design movement is that their brand of intelligent design is not testable, falsifiable, or predictive. This brand lacks these features, scientists explain, because there is no model explaining the nature of the intelligent design. The problem with these complaints is that the general public has little comprehension of what really makes up a scientific model or why it is so important for a model to be testable, falsifiable, and predictive.
He is quite correct that most people have little idea how science works and even less of an idea why some sets of knowledge they learn in school are so well understood while others are not. It is also notable that he did not defend the ID perspective, likely because he also knows it is unfalsifiable.

Then the wheels fall of the wagon:
Scientists will retain a failed model, however, if there is no superior model to take its place. This is why it’s typically fruitless for Christians to point out all the flaws and failures in the evolutionists’ explanation for the origin and history of life. Most evolutionists are already aware of the shortcomings in their model. Nevertheless, they will not abandon the model until they first see a superior model to take its place.
BANG! BANG! BANG! I'm sorry. I was just banging my head against the desk. I'm back now. How could someone so thoughtful and well-read be so misinformed about evolution? What are the shortcomings of the model? As a hermeneutic, there are few theories with better explanatory power. How did Neil Shubin know to look for the fishapod in Devonian shallow sea deposits? How do you explain the fact that he actually found exactly what he expected to find? How do researchers like Ross (who is a progressive creationist) explain the fact that over 90% of the species in the world's history have gone extinct? Isn't that wasteful? Why would God create, in successive order, descendent species with minor changes, some to run concurrently with their predecessor, until summarily removing one of them from the landscape? Why would he do this time and time again? To be sure, the questions raised above have the ring of "argument from personal incredulity" except that we have a working model to explain these things—and it is a very good working model. Theodosius Dobzhansky was right: "Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution." Ross' response is disappointing.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Reasons to Believe Added

A reader correctly castigated me for not having Reasons to Believe as a link on the left side. Reasons is a site run by physicist Hugh Ross, who wrote the book The Fingerprint of God. Ross came to the University of Tennessee in the early 1990s and gave a lecture based on his book. By virtue of being an astrophysicist, he focuses on the arguments against the young earth position as they relate to astronomy. This is the opening section of the belief statement on the scripture:
We believe the Bible (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) is the Word of God, written. As a "God-breathed" revelation, it is thus verbally inspired and completely without error (historically, scientifically, morally, and spiritually) in its original writings. While God the Holy Spirit supernaturally superintended the writing of the Bible, that writing nevertheless reflects the words and literary styles of its individual human authors. Scripture reveals the being, nature, and character of God, the nature of God's creation, and especially His will for the salvation of human beings through Jesus Christ. The Bible is therefore our supreme and final authority in all matters that it addresses.
Ross is very thoughtful and his cosmological arguments are as convincing as the geological ones of Davis Young. Enjoy.

The Strange Brain of Homo floresiensis

Science News has a report on a study done on the endocranial remains of the strange, little hominid/hominin remains from the island of Flores, Indonesia. Bruce Bower writes:
An analysis of the inner surface of an 18,000-year–old skull assigned to Homo floresiensis, a species also known as hobbits, indicates that this tiny individual possessed a brain blessed with souped-up intellectual capacities needed for activities such as making stone tools, says anthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Even as H. floresiensis evolved a relatively diminutive brain, the species underwent substantial neural reorganization that allowed its members to think much like people do, Falk contended on April 2 in a presentation at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting. She also reported the findings in a paper published online February 28 in the Journal of Human Evolution.

To me, this gives more credence to the hypothesis that this represents endemic dwarfism on the island. They may have migrated to the area as a diminutive hominid line and simply never grew beyond the size of their forebears. In isolation, selection pressures continued for a more complex brain but not for a larger size. I am sure Ralph Holloway will have something to say about this. Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Texas: Meanwhile, in the Trenches...

The Abilene ReporterNews writes that the new rules for science standards will have little effect on how things are done in the classroom in the Abilene Independent School District:
"I cannot see that changing this statement will have any effect on the teaching of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science in AISD," said Gaile B. Thompson, the district's executive director of secondary education.

"The science TEKS have always included teaching the processes of evolution," she continued, "and the revised TEKS continue to include those processes."

Other reactions were similar but also suggested that there is frustration with the process.
Dan Allen, a biology teacher at Abilene High School, said Friday that he plans to continue teaching the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theory. "I don't, at this point in time, think that this will have a direct influence on my teaching in science classes," he said.

"I will continue to teach the strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theory," he added. "Such is the nature of science. It is regrettable that a group of people who are not scientists have such an influence on the teaching of science."
As Bob the Cucumber would say: "Ain't that the truth."

Texas: Parallels with Dover?

An article in the York Daily Record (the county in which the Dover School Board trial took place in 2005) suggests that the same battles may be starting over in Texas:
Those involved on the plaintiffs' side of the Dover lawsuit said it all sounds too familiar. "It just seems to be the next way to bring creationism back in, but they're not so blunt about it," said Tammy Kitzmiller, the plaintiff whose name was listed first on the lawsuit."It's definitely a backdoor approach. It's understated. It's re-worded. It's going to fly under the radar for a lot of people."

Kenneth Miller also suggests that there is more than superficial similarity :
Ken Miller is the co-author of the most widely used biology textbook in Texas, and was one of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses in the Dover trial.

"(The standard's authors) say 'All we really want to do is propose critical analysis of evolution,'" said Miller, a professor at Brown University. "But then you look at their critical set of arguments, it's the same thing they were saying about intelligent design."

The standard requiring students to critique "explanations concerning complexity of the cell," Miller said, parrots the concept of "irreducible complexity," one of intelligent design's main tenets. Another standard says students must analyze scientific explanations concerning any data of "sudden appearance," which Miller called an element of intelligent design. In the Dover trial, the plaintiffs showed manuscripts for an unreleased textbook in which the phrase replaced "intelligent design."

To this, of course, Casey Luskin of the DI had a response:
He said experts like Miller are being disingenuous when they describe sudden appearance as if it's solely associated with intelligent design.

"This is bullcrap," Luskin said. "Terms like abrupt appearance, sudden appearance, you can find them in the mainstream literature.

"We have to get past these bluffs from the evolution lobby or scientific research will just be shut down."

Michael Behe, the Lehigh University biology professor who is a proponent of intelligent design, said the Texas standards simply ask students not to treat evolution as an "icon that cannot be questioned."
A few things in that passage are worth commenting upon. First, if there is disingenuosness going on, it is on both sides. Casey Luskin uses terms like "abrupt appearance" and "sudden appearance" to argue that evolution doesn't occur and that evolutionary theory cannot explain these things. That's malarkey. When people like Gould and Eldredge use those terms, they use them in a way to explain that evolution proceeded very quickly in these stages through punctuationalism. All fossil forms go through stasis at one point or another in their history. They also go through rapid evolutionary phases. Despite what Don McLeroy might say, stasis is evolution.

It is also notable that he regards proponents of evolution as a political force, rather than educators, calling them "the evolution lobby." This is the modern DI strategy—politicize the debate so that the focus shifts from what the real evidence is for evolution to how it is being taught in schools. It also conveniently side-steps the lack of evidence for Intelligent Design.

The other item that caught my eye is where Michael Behe describes evolution as an "icon that cannot be questioned." This recalls the language of fellow DI writer Jonathan Wells, who wrote the book Icons of Evolution, in which he got just about everything about evolution wrong. There is a scathing review of that book here by the NCSE's Alan Gishlick.

Monday, April 06, 2009

New Scientist Editorial on the Texas Science Standards

The New Scientist has an editorial on the ruling in Texas. They write:
As we saw in the 2005 trial over teaching intelligent design in Dover, Pennsylvania, and are now seeing in Texas, school boards have become a political battleground. Many board members appear to be acting on behalf of religious groups like local churches or the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based standard-bearer of the intelligent design movement.
The Discovery Institute seems to be the driving influence here. They have fostered bills in at least five different states that invoke the "strengths and weaknesses" language. In some senses, they are the counterpart to the NCSE. There is a deeper problem at work here:
School science standards should be set by people who understand science and science education. At the same time, it is dangerous to argue that the powers of democratically elected officials should be taken away if they don't produce the outcome you want.

Yet that is what may happen in Texas. State senator Rodney Ellis and representative Garnet Coleman, both Democrats, have introduced legislation that would transfer authority for textbooks and curricula to the Texas Education Agency.

This one always has me over a barrel because I generally support states' rights and the tenets of a representative republic. But you just can't have people like Don McLeroy—who rants "I disagree with these experts. Someone has got to stand up to experts"—promulgating science policy. Is there a solution? The New Scientist seems to think so:

One possibility is that candidates for school boards should be vetted before they stand. Another is for the pro-science lobby to engage more fully with the democratic process. After the Dover trial, board members who favoured intelligent design were dumped by the electorate. Something similar could happen in Texas.

Another possibility is to push decisions further up the democratic ladder. President Barack Obama has already called for all states to have the same achievement standards, raising hopes that he might push for federal standards across all US schools. While this might provoke conservative ire, it would put an end to the present situation in which an accident of geography can determine whether a child is taught valid science.

Who would do the vetting? There are just enough science teachers out there with goofy ideas that they might create trouble in that arena. How would that get around "appointments" such as the one that put Don McLeroy in the chair? Unless there is a recall mechanism, science in Texas is screwed for the next several years. If Rick Perry has ID sympathies, the best scientists in the nation won't be able to push through good standards.

The second solution has more promise but I have a distinct dislike for the continued federal government "creep." The government has completed screwed up public education and I have absolutely no doubt they would screw this up too. Children across the nation are being taught things "for their own good," much of which is garbage. Two of my children are in private school because we want them to get the best education they can—and they are. Marcus, my third grader, is doing things in school that I didn't do until fifth grade. I was in a private school that had a 95% college placement average. But the school that Marcus and Madeline attend teaches creationism. I still haven't figured out you teach kids to think critically and logically about things and them teach them that. But I digress...

I think that the best solution is the vetting option and that prospective school board members should have to pass a test in basic knowledge across several disciplines, as administered by the state education agency. That would weed out people like McLeroy, who is, as nearly as I can tell, a complete moron who knows nothing about evolution.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Video About Evolution

Here is a marvelous video about the basics of evolution that was posted to YouTube. All people who oppose evolution need to see this. Hat tip to LGF.

Another Attempt With the Lens

This is a bit better. Here is my daughter Daphne swinging in the back yard.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Off Topic: First Outing with the Canon 55-250 IS Lens

Here is one of the first shots with the new Canon 55-250 stabilized Telephoto zoom lens. It is easy to use and very light. The stabilization works very well. This picture is not that great but I haven't had a chance to really test it out.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Blog of the Airtight Noodle Tackles Don McLeroy

The Blog of the Airtight Noodle has a great post on the spin of Don McLeroy, who wrote an editorial for the Austin American-Statesman that was full of misquotes and misinformation. She writes:
Now, others might point out that having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards does not mean that teachers will be tossing ideas about creationism around willy-nilly. True. However, having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the science TEKS is dangerous regardless. This phrase itself is unscientific and gives students false ideas about the very nature of science. McLeroy points out that this phrase has been part of the standards for several years and was uncontroversial until recently. That’s not really the case. There have been many people who have wanted that phrase removed for YEARS. (Recall that several months ago state board of education member Barbara Cargill wrote an editorial in which she stated that the phrase had served Texas students well for years. When I emailed and asked her to explain this statement, she never replied.)
Ah Ha! Someone else that wrote Barbara Cargill with a hard question that never got an answer. And I bet we never will. Her response to why we should oppose such language such as "strengths and weaknesses" is smack on the money:
1. These standards give students a false idea that there is a scientific controversy over evolution. There is not.
2. The phrase “strengths and weaknesses” gives a false idea about the very nature of science.
3. This approach could potentially lead to costly lawsuits when teachers use the standards to promote alternative theories in class like creationism (or, vice versa, teachers could potentially be accused of not adequately covering the “weaknesses” part of the clause).
4. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our great state.
5. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our COUNTRY (recall that Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, so what Texas decides largely impacts the rest of the nation).
As long as charlatans like McLeroy can peddle the "teach the controversy" garbage, they will continue to gain converts who don't have the education to know that these arguments are garbage.

Supporters of the Texas Science Decision Should Be Cautious

At least that is what The Corpus Christi Caller-Times thinks. In an editorial, they suggest that the battle might be won but the war is far from over. They write:
The confrontation before the State Board of Education had little to do with education and much to do with political ideology. The board has been rewriting the curriculum that will guide Texas schools -- and heavily influence the writing of school textbooks -- over the next 10 years. The debate over the science curriculum was the most heated, but the conservatives led by McLeroy have followed the same ideological line on other subjects. They ignored the recommendations of panels of professional teachers and educators who studied the proposed changes in the teaching of English for two years, instead producing a document that appeared at the hotel doors of board members the day of the vote. The social conservatives on the board can be counted on to continue their efforts as other subjects come up for review.
That is sad. Science should never be held hostage to ideology. As Richard Colling said in his wonderful, but short article Evolution and Faith: Communicating their Compatibility in Christian Higher Education:
It is truly a sad day in the life of a Christian community when new understanding and insights into God’s marvelous creation revealed by biology and genetics - including evolution - are viewed as a threat to faith. No doubt there are many legitimate questions to address, but continued denial of evolution by the Christian community is a sure-fire losing proposition for the credibility of the gospel and our Christian faith. We can, and must do better. The next generation is depending on us to confidently speak the truth in love - and with no fear!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

David Harsanyi On the Texas Science Decision

David Harsanyi of the Creator's Syndicate is asking us why we fear to have our treasured understandings critiqued in school. He writes:
Why are so many allegedly tolerant and science-loving Americans aghast at the notion that their beliefs will be scrutinized in schools? Are school systems reflections of the population's diverse viewpoints or places of political control? Should school boards shut down debate on a topic that millions of Americans still disagree on?

Until we jettison the antiquated one-size-fits-all public education system, the majority of students will endure some seemingly preposterous objections to fact, useless sex and/or abstinence programs, historical textbooks that are mockeries of history, and/or truly questionable science employed for ideological purposes.

The problem that I have is the idea that a small, uneducated minority is taking the entire enterprise hostage because they have the support of a large chunk of the equally uneducated public. The only way to get that public educated is to teach them good science. Having said that, I agree with him about the public schools.

Slightly Off-Topic

I almost snorted Coca-Cola through my nose when I read this story. Who says government lab employees can't have fun? Sue Vorenberg, of the Santa Fe New Mexican has a story about physicist Mark Boslough, at Sandia National Labs who enjoys a good hoax now and then. She writes:
"We're all subject to gullibility, especially if it's something you want to believe," Boslough said. "That's why con artists continue to be successful."
Getting one past Boslough might be tough, though — his most well-known prank is ranked seventh out of the "Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time," at the Museum of Hoaxes,

Boslough just couldn't help himself with that one, which he let loose on cyberspace back in 1998 — he said he just had to spread the word about Alabama legislators trying to change pi, an infinite number that begins with 3.14159, to the more "biblical value" of 3.0.

The e-mail was disguised as a news story, written by "April Holiday" of "The Associalized Press."

In it, a fictitious lawmaker argued that because pi can't be calculated exactly, it could "harm students' self-esteem."
It started out as an effort to poke fun at creationists that went way beyond what he had envisioned:
Soon, calls poured into Alabama legislators' offices to protest the new law. And the e-mail started to change — with versions coming back to Boslough and Thomas attributing the story to the Associated Press and changing fictitious source names into those of real people at Auburn University, Thomas said.

"It was like looking at a virus as it mutates," Thomas said.

Eventually the story was debunked by, a site that dispels urban myths; it was also cited by National Geographic News in 2004 as one of the "more memorable hoaxes in recent history."
Hilarious. Read the whole story to see how his prank inspired others.

The New Scientist on the Texas Science Ruling

The New Scientist is skeptical about how good the new science standards in Texas really are. While the strengths and weaknesses language was removed, according to some, other problems remain:
However, additional amendments that were voted through provide loopholes for creationist teaching. "It's as if they slammed the door shut with strengths and weaknesses, then ran around the house opening windows to let it in a bunch of other ways," says Dan Quinn, who was on site at the hearings. Quinn is communications director of the Texas Freedom Network, a community watchdog organisation.
During the struggle over evolution, one particular amendment went unnoticed by most (including me):
An amendment to the Earth and space sciences curriculum requires the teaching of different theories of the origin, age and history of the universe. The board voted to remove from the standards the statement that the universe is roughly 14 billion years old.
Arguing about whether evolution can explain biological diversity is one thing. Positing that the universe might not be more than 6 000 years old is another thing, entirely. This goes against many different lines of evidence, including cosmology, astronomy and astrophysics, just to name a few. The money quote, though in the article is what Don McLeroy said:
Anti-evolutionist Don McLeroy, a dentist and chair of the Texas State Board of Education, testified at Friday's hearing: "I disagree with these experts. Someone has got to stand up to experts."
And you disagree with these experts based on what, your degree in dentistry??? Unqualified. Remove now!!

Chris Comer Loses Lawsuit

Chris Comer, the former Texas Education Agency director has lost her reinstatement suit. According to the Austin American-Statesman's Molly Bloom:
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday that was filed by a former Texas Education Agency science director who alleged that the agency's neutral position on the teaching of creationism was unconstitutional.

Chris Comer, who was the agency's head of science curriculum for nine years, resigned in November 2007 after her supervisors threatened to fire her for forwarding an e-mail about a speaker who was critical of teaching creationism and intelligent design, an idea that the origins of life are best explained as the intentional result of a creator.

The judge ruled that those matters were best left to the State Board of Education and not the Texas Education Agency.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Christopher Hitchens on the Texas Science Standards

Newsweek has an article by Christopher Hitchens who, when not addressing religious topics, is normally very clear-thinking. He reminds us of some of the victories of years past:
The Texas anti-Darwin stalwarts also might want to beware of what they wish for. The last times that evangelical Protestantism won cultural/ political victories—by banning the sale of alcohol, prohibiting the teaching of evolution and restricting immigration from Catholic countries—the triumphs all turned out to be Pyrrhic. There are some successes that are simply not survivable. If by any combination of luck and coincidence any religious coalition ever did succeed in criminalizing abortion, say, or mandating school prayer, it would swiftly become the victim of a backlash that would make it rue the day. This will apply with redoubled force to any initiative that asks the United States to trade its hard-won scientific preeminence against its private and unofficial pieties. This country is so constituted that no one group, and certainly no one confessional group, is able to dictate its own standards to the others. There are days when I almost wish the fundamentalists could get their own way, just so that they would find out what would happen to them.
Actually, the problem that I see is that Christians will be seen as more detached from reality if the YEC people have their way. What now seems like a fringe belief will seem completely idiotic. He also plainly calls Intelligent Design what it is: nonscientific:
It's not just that the overwhelming majority of scientists are now convinced that evolution is inscribed in the fossil record and in the lineaments of molecular biology. It is more that evolutionists will say in advance which evidence, if found, would refute them and force them to reconsider. ("Rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian layer" was, I seem to remember, the response of Prof. J.B.S. Haldane.) Try asking an "intelligent design" advocate to stipulate upfront what would constitute refutation of his world view and you will easily see the difference between the scientific method and the pseudoscientific one.
How many times can it be said "You have no theory!"