Tuesday, August 31, 2010

And Yet More Trouble for Freshwater

According to Panda's Thumb, the judge handed down more sanctions to R. Kelly Hamilton. To wit:
This new order requires Hamilton alone to pay attorney fees and costs to the Board of Education’s lawyer(s) for his dilatory tactics in guiding the evasive responses of the Freshwaters (John and his wife Nancy) to discovery demands.
Time to find a new attorney.

Now playing: Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick (Side 1)
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Things Getting Worse For Freshwater

Panda's Thumb is reporting that more sanctions are in the offing against R. Kelly Hamilton, John Freshwater's attorney. Specifically, these have to do with who owes the court costs. As reported at PT:
Further, this Court should order Attorney Hamilton to pay the expenses incurred by Defendants. “Rule 37 permits a court to order the attorney who advised the conduct necessitating a motion to compel to pay the expenses thereby incurred… when it is clear that discovery was unjustifiably opposed principally at his instigation.” Id. at *19-20 citing Humphreys Extermination Co. v. Poulter, 62 F.R.D. 392, 395 (D. Md. 1974). For the foregoing reasons, it is clear that Attorney Hamilton controlled the disposition of his clients’ discovery responses. Attorney Hamilton chose not to call Defendants’ counsel to notify them that responses were in the mail and chose not to file for an extension of time. It was Attorney Hamilton who did not work with Defendants’ counsel to provide adequate discovery in a timely fashion.
Basically, he didn't do his job. Sadly, that affects John Freshwater in a big way. While I had no sympathy for his case, this just seems to be incompetence on the part of his lawyer.

Now playing: Todd Rundgren - An Elpee's Worth Of Tunes
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rob Zimmer Reviews The Science of God

Rob Zimmer, over at the Center for Faith and Science International, has given The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder a much more positive spin than I did. He writes:
The book of Genesis suggests an age of 6,000 years based on a clock which began ticking at its present rate after the universe had expanded into its present size. The initial 14-15 billion years of the universe’s birth and expansion would have equaled only 1/100,000 of a second today. The key point here is that our present rate of time, with a week equaling seven 24 hour periods, is the proper rate of time following the early expansion of the universe when the rate of time was a million million times different. At this “modern rate”, the biblical account of six 24 hour periods of creation seems correct and supported by modern cosmological evidence when, and only when, the two time scales are considered.
As I said in my review, I liked the physics section quite well. I am not able to completely evaluate it but as nearly as I can tell, it has empirical support.

Now playing: Alan Parsons - Alpha Centauri
via FoxyTunes

Friday, August 27, 2010

New Scientist Interviews Timothy Taylor on Early Hominid Culture

Anthropologist Timothy Taylor is convinced it was the earliest stone tools that were the impetus for human evolution. Amanda Gefter of the New Scientist interviews him about this and other ideas. She writes:

So you are saying that technology came before humans?

The archaeological record shows chipped stone tool technologies earlier than 2.5 million years ago. That's the smoking gun. The oldest fossil specimen of the genus Homo is at most 2.2 million years old. That's a gap of more than 300,000 years - more than the total length of time that Homo sapiens has been on the planet. This suggests that earlier hominins called australopithecines were responsible for the stone tools.

Is it possible that we just don't have a genus Homo fossil, but they really were around?

Some researchers are holding out for an earlier specimen of genus Homo. I'm trying to free us to think that we had stone tools first and that those tools created a significant part of our intelligence. The tools caused the genus Homo to emerge.

This is backward from the usual assumption that it was the brain increase in early hominids that spurred the cognitive development necessary to produce the tools that initially allowed them to modify their environment and, later, to hunt. The other assumption here is that early hominid females were able to fashion "slings" for their infants:
Once you have slings to carry babies, you have broken a glass ceiling - it doesn't matter whether the infant is helpless for a day, a month or a year. You can have ever more helpless young and that, as far as I can see, is how encephalisation took place in the genus Homo. We used technology to turn ourselves into kangaroos. Our children are born more and more underdeveloped because they can continue to develop outside the womb - they become an extra-uterine fetus in the sling. This means their heads can continue to grow after birth, solving the smart biped paradox. In that sense technology comes before the ascent to Homo. Our brain expansion only really took off half a million years after the first stone tools. And they continued to develop within an increasingly technological environment.
As Taylor notes, however, there is a rather serious problem with this idea. As Mr. Spock would note: "We have no evidence, only a theory which happens to fit the facts." Nor is it clear that there would ever be evidence found for such things, given their consistency. Still, it is an interesting idea, especially given that we now know that stone tools were in use almost a million years earlier than we thought—strongly suggesting that australopithecine cognitive development was greater than we thought.

Now playing: They Might Be Giants - No!
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Karl Giberson Responds to Albert Mohler

Karl Giberson has responded to the article by Albert Mohler, in which he argued that our modern understanding of science is a corruption of our walk with God and that we do not see the universe as it really is. We see a corrupted, fallen version of it. According to Dr. Mohler, we must read the scriptures as they are written and, in instances in which it seems to conflict with science, we must insist on scripture being correct. Gilberson responds:
I hope that you are wrong when you say that there can be no reconciliation, for I fear for our church if simple education in well-established scientific ideas becomes a well-lighted exit from our faith. To perpetuate this either/or choice is to guarantee that this exit will continue to be filled with disillusioned young people.
Giberson is absolutely correct, here. As Mark Noll wrote, the scandal of the evangelical mind is there isn't one. We cannot afford to abdicate our responsibilities to the scientific community just because we might disagree with some of them on their theological positions. Giberson also notes what I wrote in the last post, that Mohler is unaware of his own theological positions:
You seem to equate your understanding of how the Bible should be read with plain-fact Christian orthodoxy. There we must part ways, and I suspect that at the end of the day, this may be the real point of contention. I do not think that I am showing how much doctrine Christianity has to surrender, but how problematic fundamentalist literalism is for engaging science. But even this may imply more disagreement than there needs to be.
This literal, flat reading of scripture, despite having its own inconsistencies, becomes an end to itself. In the end, it is hard not to come away from reading people like Mohler, Ken Ham, John Morris and others that they are not nearly as concerned with whether or not you have accepted Christ as whether or not you believe in a young earth.

Now playing: Amy Grant - Lead Me On
via FoxyTunes

Albert Mohler on the Age of the Earth

A bit back, Albert Mohler posted a talk on the BioLogos site titled Why Does the Universe Look So Old? In it, he writes:
Well, we have limited options. Number one: Maybe the universe looks so old because it is so old. Option number two: Maybe the universe looks very old, but it is not actually so old as it looks. There could be perhaps a third option or any number of derivatives in which you simply say, “We can’t answer the question.” Or there would be some who would say, “The question isn’t important.” Now I’m going to suggest to you this morning that the question is extremely important and that it is one for which we must be ready to give an answer.
I can think of a large number of Christians who would disagree with this answer. There are many "day-agers" out there for which this is not an issue. In fact, this is only is a problem with the modern evangelical movement. He continues:
Coming at the midpoint of the 19th century, we need to be reminded that Darwin was not the first evolutionist. We need to be reminded that Darwin did not embark upon the Beagle having no preconceptions of what exactly he was looking for or having no theory of how life emerged in all of its diversity, fecundity, and specialization. Darwin left on his expedition to prove the theory of evolution.
Mohler presents no evidence to back this up. In fact, Darwin was aware of the evolutionary suppositions of both John Ray and Jean Baptiste Lamarck but was still committed to fixity of species when he went on board the Beagle. He wasn't committed to anything other than observation of the natural world. Mohler is wrong here. Continuing:
The inference and consensus of the church, through all of these centuries, that the earth and the universe, the cosmos as a whole, is very young, talking about a limitation of only several thousand years by the time you take the book of Genesis and especially its first eleven chapters, and you look at the creation account and you look at the genealogy and you add it all together you’re looking at no more than several thousand years. We’re talking about a disagreement that is not slight. The difference between several thousand years and 13.5 billion years is no small matter and I would argue it comes with huge theological consequences.
Not mentioned here is also that the church had the consensus that the earth was flat, and in the center of the universe, two positions that we now know to be completely false. By removing the age of the earth question from this context, he makes the early church writers out to be more educated than they, in fact, were.Even secular science had little understanding of the physical world until the last three hundred years. That tells us more about the state of science than the state of theology.

The crux of the article is that the current debate in science is being defined by intellectual "elites," both scientific and theological who have lost sight of what is actually in the Bible. He writes:
As we work backwards in terms of evangelical options, the idea that Genesis is merely literary has to be rejected out of hand as in direct contradiction to our understanding of the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God. That option, for any credible and faithful evangelical Christian, must be taken off the table.
Here, he is using inerrant sensu stricto, meaning that it must be read word for word to be understood and that if we do not do that, we have ventured into apostasy. This is a very flat, monochromatic view of scripture. It allows for nothing of the beauty and poetry of the language or how it is similar to the narratives around the Near East and how it differed from them. It also, in my mind, critically and fatally fails to account for the considerable differences between the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. In the first account, the plants and animals are created before humans. In the second, humans are created first, then plants and animals. How are we to account for these differences, if we read the text literally?

Moher believes that if we accept modern science, when we look at the universe we don't see what is really there. We see what we want to (I am reminded of the dwarves in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle). It never occurs to Dr. Mohler that he might also be seeing what he wants to see in the scriptures.

Now playing: Amy Grant - Ask Me
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Film: Genesis Code

Charley Honey of the Grand Rapids Press has a column out about a new film called The Genesis Code, by Jerry Zandstra, which examines the battleground of faith and science. He writes:
Zandstra took a course from [Howard] Van Till at Calvin, where he said his literal creationist views were “blown up.” In time, he came to appreciate science’s contributions to understanding a God-created world.

He stayed curious about that while serving as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church and as former director for the conservative Acton Institute. His unlikely path toward moviemaking started at an Acton lecture a few years back. A Hollywood financier in the audience approached him about a new project and later connected him with producer-director Michael Leighton. Zandstra was skeptical.

“I said, ‘In my mind, you guys all live in one giant hot tub. Every six months, you crawl out of your primordial slime and make a movie I don’t want my kids to see,’” recalled Zandstra, who has three children.
As Zandstra comments, though, it looks like most Christian films were made "in someone's back yard." Having seen enough of those, I can understand his trepidation. But Honey continues:
Not so “The Genesis Code,” which features slick production and big names, including Ernest Borgnine, Fred Thompson and Louise Fletcher, who played Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Lesser-known actors Kelsey Sanders and Logan Bartholomew play, respectively, the Christian college-student journalist Kerry writing about skeptical star hockey player Blake.
This, then would be the other bookend to Creation, the film about Darwin from last year. I hope that it is well-handled.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Sleepfall: The Geese Fly West (2008 Remaster)
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wyoming Signage Intolerant of Young Earth Creationism

Dave Thomas over at Panda's Thumb points out something that, honestly took me by surprise. In a post titled "I'm Proud of Wyoming," he posts some pictures he took while on fieldwork. I will reproduce one of them here. There are quite a few others. I have never seen anything like this in Tennessee but they would be a welcome sight.

I don't know how long the signs have been there but I think they should post a whole bunch of them around Northern Kentucky and southern Ohio, right along I-75. Three cheers for the Wyoming Highway Department.

Now playing: Tony Banks - By You
via FoxyTunes

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cornelius Hunter and the Nature of Science

Cornelius Hunter has an interesting piece on his blog "Darwin's God." He waxes about the nature of science and how theory is constructed. Then he, inexplicably fails to apply these insights to the one theory he apparently hates so much: evolution. I once heard a comedian talk about someone that was so narrow-minded he could "look through a keyhole with both eyes." Here, the myopia is extreme. He writes:
A friend of mine likes to invest in stocks. He understands computer companies so he trades only those stocks. This limitation makes for a simple and straightforward investing strategy. Evolutionists also limit themselves. They investigate only those phenomena that are the result of strictly natural causes. This limitation makes for a simple and straightforward research strategy, though it does create a blind spot.

An investor who buys only computer company stocks can easily identify those companies. He can find companies that build computers, computer components, computer software, and so forth. But how can evolutionists know whether the causes of a past event are strictly natural? How can evolutionists decide which phenomena fall into their research program?

The answer is they can't. Evolutionists have no test for naturalism. They have no way of knowing whether a phenomenon is the result of strictly natural causes.
First, the analogy doesn't hold. His friend only invests in tech stocks. But he could invest in other stocks if he wanted to. Why? Because other stocks behave the same way that tech stocks do. They are all part of the sector of the economy known as the stock market, which follows known patterns. Evolution doesn't limit itself to naturalistic explanations any more than any other scientific discipline.

It soon becomes clear that, when using the term 'evolutionist,' Hunter means modern science in general, since he imputes this problem to all scientific disciplines. What seems lost on him is that this applies to his own area of research, biochemistry. Hunter's argument is that, because we have no test for naturalism, we have no way of testing whether an unsolved problem is simply that: an unsolved problem, or whether it is an unsolvable problem requiring a paradigm shift. He continues:
How can we decide when a scientific problem is not a research problem, but a paradigm problem? Naturalism has no criteria, no set of rules by which to make such a judgment. And no one wants to turn science's attention away from the future discoveries. In fact, phenomena that are more daunting for naturalism are also more tantalizing, for their explanations will be more surprising and dramatic. Not only does science have a blind spot, not knowing if it has stumbled upon an unsolvable problem, but there is a certain allure of such problems. No one knows what will be science's next "Neptune."

This helps to explain the hesitancy of scientists to admit that non natural phenomena might exist. In science we follow Descartes' prescription and approach everything using naturalistic explanations. It also helps to explain the tolerance for improbable theories. Historical theories, no matter how erroneous they may seem, could be just a "Neptune" away from falling into place.

All of this helps to explain how such an implausible theory as evolution persists. It is underwritten not only by theological conviction that natural causes must suffice, but by a philosophy of science that cannot abide any other possibility, no matter how implausible evolution becomes.
Notice the segue from "this is how science operates" to "in doing science we put up with some junk" to "evolution is junk." He provides no evidence for this, merely a blanket statement that evolution is not science. We are supposed to take it on face value that he is correct. In his musings on paradigm shifts, though, he has forgotten something: paradigm shifts only happen when a truly intractable problem affects central tenets of a theory. Such a paradigm shift occurred when Alfred Wegener proposed a solution to many unanswered questions in the form of continental drift. It was a radical change in the understanding of how land masses behaved. Unfortunately, evidence for this did not come to light until the 1950s, when plate tectonics was discovered.

The only major paradigm shift in evolution occurred in the early part of the twentieth century with the discovery of genes and how they functioned. Up until that time, Darwin and others knew that evolution was taking place, but had no understanding of exactly how. Since that time, evolutionary theory has only become more robust. To be sure, there have been changes in understanding regarding tempo and mode and the recent emphasis on evolutionary development, but there are extremely few naturalists or palaeontologists who are not convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that evolution is and has happened throughout the history of this planet. If Hunter wishes to relegate evolution to junk science, he will have to do better than this.

Now playing: Tony Banks - Smilin' Jack Casey
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Catching Up: The Jesuit and the Skull

I have just finished a book that came out a few years ago dealing with the famous Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, called The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man. The author is Amir Aczel, who is one of the new breed of science writers. He has also tackled Fermat's last theorem, the invention of the compass, Einstein's theory of relativity and other topics.

The Jesuit and the Skull is interesting for what it is and what it is not. It is a chronological life history of the fascinating churchman, his struggles to understand the science of his day, to remain true to his vows despite his long relationships with women, and with the ever-present and ever-critical Society of Jesus. What it is not is an examination of the beliefs and theological constructs that made him a champion of liberal theology and a scourge to the church. It is hard not to be sympathetic with Teilhard, who obviously struggled mightily with these issues and received no support of any kind from the church. In the end, his idea of the Omega Point differs from orthodox Christianity enough that he was branded sort of a modern-day gnostic. What does come out in the book is his loyalty to his friends and to the church that spurned him. As Amir writes, Teilhard was continually hand-cuffed in what he could write, what he could lecture about and where he could go by the church that he felt he could never leave.

The book gives a good, if brief account of the goings on in China in the late 1920s and 1930s, with the discovery of the Sinanthropus pekinensis fossils and attempts to keep them out of the hands of the invading Japanese army. It also gives a modest treatment of fossil hominid discoveries up to that point and how Teilhard responded to them. The section on evolutionary theory takes up less than a chapter and deals more with the history of the breakthrough than the theory itself, which is peculiar, given the title, and makes for some odd reading.

Aczel's book is an easy read and moves along nicely. It is also fascinating to see, if only tertiarally, how a man who had deep-felt and honest devotion to God adapted to the changing views of science. This area could have been expanded and the reading experience comes up a little bit short because of it. It is, however, well worth the time to delve into the life of this interesting and much maligned cleric.

Now playing: William Ackerman - The Opening of Doors
via FoxyTunes

Monday, August 16, 2010

Discussion on the Historicity of Adam

There is a lively discussion going on over at BioLogos involving an article on the Historicity of Adam by Tremper Longman. Stop by and comment.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tim Sandefur on Luskin's "Zeal For Darwin"

Tim Sandefur over at Panda's Thumb has a post on the new Casey Luskin 88 page article that I review just below this one. He writes:
The neutrality requirement in the First Amendment forbids the government from taking a position on the truth or falsehood of a religious doctrine in religious terms, but it may take a position on any matter on areligious or non-religious terms. That is, the Constitution forbids the government from endorsing or propagating or censoring the doctrinal truth of a religious proposition, but it does not forbid the government from endorsing or propagating the factual truth of a proposition, even if those propositions turn out to be the same in content. It does not forbid the government from reaching a conclusion, and stating or endorsing that conclusion, from secular premises, even if that conclusion happens to clash with someone’s religious view. Government may not take religious positions, but it take secular positions that happen to clash with positions endorsed by a religious viewpoint.
If I understand this correctly, where this has typically come into play has been where parents have withheld life-saving medical techniques from children because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. Recent cases have found for the government.

If it can be shown that ID is scientifically bankrupt, the government can, without fear of violation of the establishment clause, find for a party that objects to the teaching of ID on scientific grounds. It has usually been the case that, when dealing with creationism, violations of the establishment clause were easy pickings because it was obvious that it proceeds from a religious perspective. (Fish? Barrel?) This will be trickier, if the government tackles it at all.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Back To The Pavilion (2009 Remaster)
via FoxyTunes

Casey Luskin, Intelligent Design and the Establishment Clause

This is a long post. Sorry about that. Panda's Thumb points us to a new article in the Liberty University Law Review by Casey Luskin, in which he argues that supporters of "Darwin's House" encourage violation of the establishment clause. Liberty University, if you will recall, is the former home of Jerry Falwell. To get a gist of its take on biological sciences, here is some of the boilerplate from the "Center for Creation Studies:"
The Creation Studies minor

The minor in creation studies provides a flexible program with a broad training in scientific disciplines that relate to origins as well as the Bible. Students in science or non-science majors can benefit from the in depth study of creation and evolution.

The Creation Studies Minor is 20 hours and classes include CRST 290 and 390, as well as BIBL 410.

The student will be able to:

* Demonstrate a consistent, biblical worldview regarding origins
* Explain key scientific evidences and arguments used to support the theory of evolution as well as difficulties with the theory
* Provide scientific and biblical arguments in support of creation.
Given Mr. Luskin's constant insistence that intelligent design is science and not religion, it is curious that he would publish his review here. With Jerry Falwell's image and viewpoints in life looming large, Luskin might as well have painted a target on ID's chest. Onward. He continues:
Investigations by ID critics of the religious activities of ID proponents are not mere abstract exercises: in the Kitzmiller ruling, Judge Jones praised philosopher Barbara Forrest for having “thoroughly and exhaustively chronicled . . . [the] history of ID” and for “provid[ing] a wealth of statements by ID leaders that reveal ID’s religious, philosophical, and cultural content.” Given that over ninety percent of our country believes in God, and given that many leading ID critics exhibit anti-theistic motives, beliefs, and affiliations, it is astounding that Judge Jones found it relevant to his constitutional analysis in Kitzmiller that “many leading advocates of ID . . . believe the designer to be God.”
This is classic misdirection. Judge Jones was not drawing a relationship between his analysis and belief in God. He was stating that belief in God was irrelevant to his ruling. He ruled that intelligent design constitutes an extension of creationism and cannot extricate itself from its creationist roots, which are, first and foremost, religious ("cdesign proponensists" for example). Luskin, further, directs the reader away from what Forrest found by focusing on the motives of the critics of ID. He does not mention Francisco Ayala, Kenneth Miller or Steve Matheson here. All of these are ardent critics of ID and yet are committed Christians. He also does not rebut what Forrest found.

He writes:
First, creationism has been firmly deemed a religious viewpoint by multiple courts, but teaching ID in public schools has only been addressed by one federal trial court, and ID proponents consider ID to be scientific and thereby constitutional for both advocacy and critique in public schools. Critics allege that both ID and creationism are religious viewpoints, and they oppose the advocacy of both views in public schools. (On this point, the present author agrees with evolutionists with respect to teaching creationism, but disagrees with them with respect to teaching ID.) But evolutionists—who strongly hold ID is religion—ignore the First Amendment’s prohibition on inhibiting, disapproving, or opposing religion by actively supporting attacks on ID and creationism in public schools.
This is also not quite correct. He is correct about creationism being deemed religious and that the Discovery Institute has taken great pains to try to distance itself from modern young earth creationism, such as that espoused by the Institute of Creation Research and Answers in Genesis. Luskin, once again, focuses on the idea that critics view ID as being religious. This sidesteps the fact that most critics, such as Steve Matheson, Kenneth Miller, H. Allen Orr, to name a few, critique ID based on two things: 1. the lack of scientific theory behind it (admitted by Paul Nelson1), and 2. the continual, badly formulated attacks on evolution. He continues:
While the present author would strongly contend that ID is not a religious viewpoint and that ID should be considered constitutional to advocate (or critique) in public school science classrooms, it is troubling that many leading ID critics who do contend that ID is religion turn a blind eye towards attacks on ID in public schools.
It is difficult to fathom how the present author would strongly contend that ID does not have a religious basis when its leaders and founders espouse exactly that. As Barbara Forrest writes:
Phillip E. Johnson, CSC advisor and de facto leader of the ID movement,
defines ID as requiring the reality of God: “My colleagues and I speak of ‘theistic realism’—or . . . ‘mere creation’—as the defining concept of our movement. This means that we affirm that God is objectively real as Creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology” (quoted in Forrest, 2005a, 31). William Dembski, a CSC fellow and the movement’s leading intellectual, stipulates that the designer must be “a supernatural intelligence” (quoted in Forrest, 2005a, 35). Moreover, Dembski, in appealing to John’s Gospel, identifies the designer as the Christian God, making ID not only a religious but also a sectarian belief: “Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory” (quoted in Forrest, 2005a, 26-27). (The Greek word “Logos” refers to Jesus Christ.) Dembski’s book for the popular audience, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, discusses ID in specifically Christian terms (Dembski, 1999).
How can Luskin not know this? Or if he does, how can he state his argument with a straight face? While most of the critiques of ID have been scientific in nature, the clear connexion between ID and religion is there.

He writes:
On the other hand, “special creation” or creationism are religious viewpoints that are constitutionally unfit to advocate in public school science classrooms.But members of the evolution lobby who unwaveringly lump ID with creationism (such as the Kitzmiller plaintiffs or the NCSE) exhibit no apparent protests towards the use of textbooks or school policies that attack, disparage, or oppose ID or creationism. This hypocrisy could encourage potential violations of the First Amendment, for there are numerous examples of such long-ignored textbooks that attack ID or creationism.
Opponents disparage ID textbooks not just because it is a religious perspective but because they often don't get the science correct, erect straw men when debating evolutionary models and are generally badly written. I read the "textbook" that was trucked in to the Dover School District, Of Pandas and People. It was atrocious. Steve Matheson and Francisco Ayala have had similar misgivings about the Stephen Meyer book Signature in the Cell. In the case of Dover, it was a two-pronged problem. Despite the fact that the defense witnesses were largely ID folk, the supporters of the move to bring in the book really didn't want ID taught, they wanted creationism taught. And they lied about it. They saw ID as a foothold. The prosecution focused on the fact that ID could not be supported using conventional science and that the attacks on evolution had no scientific backing. I fail to see the hypocrisy in such a position.

Luskin also glosses over a critical distinction in the criticism of ID. He accuses those who state that ID is untestable and then, in seeming contradictory fashion, argue that the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting cascade was tested and found wanting, of a logical fallacy. In other words, it is either testable or it is not testable. Michael Behe argued that the blood clotting cascade was irreducibly complex—it couldn't be broken down any further. His conclusion from this is that it was "designed." But if you break this argument down, it looks like this: Hypothesis 1: the cascade is irreducibly complex. Hypothesis 2: this irreducibly complex cascade is designed. Hypothesis 1 is testable. Several researchers have been able to show that blood clotting cascades with fewer steps are present in other organisms. It, therefore, is not irreducibly complex. Null hypothesis not rejected. Hypothesis 2, even if the null hypothesis of hypothesis 1 had been rejected, is not testable. There is no way to show that the cascade is designed. By collapsing these two tests into one, Luskin makes it seem as though the scientists are being hypocritical. When the tests are presented independently, as they would be in a scientific question, the contradiction disappears. The first question proceeds from an observation to a question. The second question runs into the problem of "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Luskin commits this error several times in the article.

He is correct about one thing though. He does show examples in which writers suggest that evolution means there is no God. One in particular he quotes is the textbook written by Monroe Strickberger:
The fear that Darwinism was an attempt to displace God in the sphere of creation was therefore quite justified. To the question, “Is there a divine purpose for the creation of humans?” evolution answers no. To the question “Is there a divine purpose for the creation of any living species?” evolution answers no.
Tar! Feathers! Evolutionary theory is simply not capable of determining whether God exists or not. That is not its purpose. Its purpose is to describe the biological variation and interconnectedness of life and show how it came to be. There is no way that Monroe Strickberger or anyone else knows whether or not humans were created for divine purpose. Evolutionary theory simply doesn't say. Such examples point not to scientific bias but religious bias. Of this he is quite correct. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of this and the faster they are identified as what they are, the better. I applaud Luskin for bringing these examples out in the open. It does show that there is animosity and bad theology on both sides. We need to be always mindful of that.

Luskin's article is 88 pages long and while I cannot possibly summarize all of the peculiarities in it, one that stood out (p. 430 specifically) was that he takes great pains to separate creationism from ID and then castigates various individuals for criticising special creation (young earth creationism). Why bother with this? He has already separated ID from special creation. Special creation does have numerous testable hypotheses—all of which get blown out of the water when examined at even a cursory level. This is unnecessary and confuses his message.

Luskin ends by writing that he is perfectly happy with the theory of evolution being taught in public schools as long as it does not bring with it anti-theistic biases that have nothing to do with the theory. I am perfect agreement with this. I think that the examples that he uses here do not promote this argument and his presentation is, at times, contradictory. He fails to explain that there are aspects of Intelligent design research that are clearly testable but that, as a whole, the concept of a "designer" is not.

1Nelson, P. (2004) The Measure of Design," Touchstone, pp. 64-65

Now playing: Tony Banks - A Curious Feeling
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Early Australopithecines Used Stone Tools

Arizona State University is reporting that research done in Dikika, northern Ethiopia, by Curtis Marean and Hamdallah Béarat has determined that animal bone recovered from sediments that date to 3.4 million years old have cut marks indicating the use of stone tools. That would put these in the hands of Australopithecus afarensis. As Carol Hughes writes:
“This discovery dramatically shifts the known timeframe of a game-changing behavior for our ancestors,” said paleoanthropologist Zeresenay “Zeray” Alemseged, director of the Dikika project and director of anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences.

No hominin remains were found with the animal bone fragments that were uncovered 200 meters away from the site where Alemseged and a team discovered “Selam” (Lucy’s baby) in 2000. Lucy was discovered in 1974 a few miles north, near Hadar, by Donald Johanson, the world renowned ASU paleoanthropologist.

“There is no question that the announcement of stone tool use at 3.4 million years ago will unleash a flurry of controversy and genuine disbelief among some scholars,” said Johanson. “However, I believe the team has presented a convincing case of stone tool use during Lucy’s time.
While Johanson is sometimes given to hyperbole, he is quite correct that this represents a quantum jump in intelligence over any previous hominin form and will generate new models of early hominin behavior. Even if A. afarensis was just scavenging, the fact that they used tools to remove the meat they needed indicates considerable complex thought. The Nature article on this find will be forthcoming.

2theadvocate Opines on Livingston Parrish

In an unsigned editorial (why?) in 2theadvocate, the writer expresses dismay at the goings on in Livingston Parrish over the proposal to teach creationism next year. They write:

Members of Livingston’s School Board expressed interest in including “creationism” in science classes in the public schools. The system’s curriculum director, Jan Benton, said that under a new state law “critical thinking and creationism” materials can be introduced into science classes.

“Critical thinking” is the code for questioning evolution because of a fundamentalist belief in the literal story of the Creation in Genesis. While most faiths would not say Genesis is incompatible with evolution, there are those who differ — and they are politically engaged and ready to impose their beliefs on others.

Professional educators who promote this idea are not lining themselves up as profiles in courage.

Critical thinking and creationism, huh? Actually, the law did not say anything about creationism. It allowed for "supplementary materials" to be included in the classroom if they promoted critical thinking regarding a topic. "Critical thinking" and "creationism" don't normally find themselves in the same sentence, and the local folk who are promoting this have little to no understanding of the various scientific disciplines involved. Judging from the rumblings on the net about this story, the consensus is that people expect these proposals to die in committee or get blown out of the water by means of a trial a la Dover.

I am of two minds about this. I hate to see people of a town get dragged through the mud because of the unfortunate actions of a few school board induhviduals. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind seeing another exposé of creationism. In the Dover case, the school board did things under the cover of night, trucking in copies of that dreadful book Of Pandas and People when nobody was looking. Five years later, with elections coming up, people are much more attuned to this controversy. It is harder to hide.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

ICR Loses Appeal

Jonathan Turley is reporting that a Texas appeals court has upheld the decision by the Texas Higher Education Commission to deny the Institute for Creation Research the right to grant graduate degrees in science. He writes:

A panel of science education experts found little evidence of science in the degree or its underlying curriculum. The panel concluded “much of the course content was outside the realm of science and lacked potential to help students understand the nature of science and the history and nature of the natural world.”

The school claimed violations of free speech, free exercise, equal protection and due process. However, under the rational basis test (which sets an extremely low standard for the government), the court granted summary judgment.
The rational basis test (if I understand it correctly) dictates whether the court believes that the government has a vested interest in the outcome of a case and whether or not it should involve itself. It saw no such interest. It is interesting that the case was based on violations of free speech and exercise and not on the basis of what the panel found—that the scientific content was non-existent.

Now playing: Genesis - Carpet Crawlers 1999
via FoxyTunes

Monday, August 09, 2010

Lauri Lebo Comments on Livingston Parrish and Bruce Chapmen's Response

Lauri Lebo is particularly critical of Bruce Chapman's response to the goings on down in Louisiana, where Livingston Parrish School Board has elected to add creationism to the school curriculum in 2011-2012. Chapman was quick to distance the Discovery Center from the fracas, writing:
But in Livingston Parish, east of Baton Rouge, some enthusiasts for a literal Biblical account of creation decided that the new law gives them authority to teach creationism -- the account from Genesis. That view clearly violates the law and also the U.S. Constitution as it long has been interpreted.
In response to this she writes:

Once again, after pushing for anti-evolution language that opens the door to teaching creationism, the good fellows at the Discovery Institute bravely turned around and ran away from the local creationist-talking school board members who want to champion their cause.

Because the DI’s first rule about creationism? Don’t talk about creationism.

In lobbying for academic freedom bills, the DI carefully avoided discussion of Christianity, instead arguing that it was in the students' best interests to learn about all of the "wide range of views" regarding evolution. But that didn't work. She continues:
In lobbying for LSEA, the Discovery Institute had worked closely with the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian organization that directly championed the teaching of creationism as recently as 2004. (Read how Louisiana Coalition for Science’s Barbara Forrest connects the dots here.) However, because of that pesky First Amendment, which prohibits using public school biology class as a pulpit, creationism is never specifically mentioned in the LSEA. Instead, LSEA relies on code language to attack the teaching of evolution and other subjects that Christian fundamentalists hate because it contradicts their narrow religious worldview - reality be damned.
Forrest's referenced article is devastating in presenting its evidence that the Discovery Institute is clearly aware of what is going on in Louisiana and is supportive of it. As with Dover, all of the effort has gone into making this another test case of a law but the DI continually fails to understand that, contrary to what Chapman writes, these people in the rural parrishes and counties don't want ID taught, they want creationism taught. Because of the vague language of the LSEA and the fact that the language prohibiting the teaching of creationism was stripped from the law, local boards are taking action. Maybe this is not what the Discovery Institute had in mind, but they should have realized that this is what would happen. It is exactly the same thing that happened in Dover.

Now playing: David Lanz - Song for Monet
via FoxyTunes

Harry Whittington, R.I.P.

Harry Whittington has died at the age of 94. He was the preeminent scholar on trilobites and his work formed the basis of what we know of the arthropods. He also worked the Burgess Shale and his observations were critical in understanding that period of time. As an unsigned article in the Telegraph notes:

Beavering away at the Sedgwick Museum of Geology at Cambridge, they patiently reconstructed the fossils in three-dimensional form, revealing a weird bestiary so different from anything now living that 15 to 20 organisms might rank as separate trunks of the evolutionary tree.

The most common organism, Marrella splendens, the subject of Whittington’s first report, published in 1971, had been identified by Walcott as a trilobite. Whittington saw that while it was clearly an arthropod, it was not a member of any known arthropod class. Organisms such as the five-eyed Opabinia and spiny, slug-like Wiwaxia were so different from anything else known that Whittington’s team assumed they must represent different phyla, only distantly related — if at all — to anything known today.

The implications of the Burgess Shale were colossal and disturbing, particularly as most of these creatures became victims of a mass extinction soon after, and such a prolific evolutionary flowering has never been repeated in nature. What became known to scientists everywhere as the “Cambrian explosion” raised the possibility that evolution may have worked by different rules at different times in Earth’s history.

The suddenness of this "Cambrian Explosion" has become, since, the subject of numerous papers in academic circles as well as a prong in the intelligent design argument against evolution. It has since become clear to all working in this period that, while it occurred comparatively rapidly, the diversification of organisms can be perfectly explained using evolutionary theory. As Kenneth Miller writes:
The Cambrian was actually not an explosion at all, but a 30-million year period of body plan experimentation and diversification that led to most of the major groups of animals alive today. But even the richly populated world of the Cambrian was not today’s world. There were no insects, no modern fish, no land plants, no flowers, no birds, and not a reptile, a dandelion, or a frog. All of that was to come. (p. 123)1
To put this into perspective, thirty million years ago, the largest primates were the size of house cats, whales were just beginning to take to the ocean and the Mediterranean Sea didn't exist. It is a long time.

1Miller, K. (2009). Only a theory: Viking.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - It's All Greek to Me
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Livingston Parrish Tests Louisiana Science Education Act

You knew this would happen. A bit back, the state of Louisiana enacted new science standards based on "academic freedom" with the noble intention that all legitimate avenues of scientific theory be examined. Then, in its infinite wisdom, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education stripped out language that would have prohibited recent earth creationism taught in public schools.

Now, it seems, that the Livingston Parrish School Board is taking the state board at their word and considering teaching creationism. From 2theadvocate.com comes this story about the plans afoot:

The discussion came up during a report on the pupil progression plan for the 2010-11 school year, delivered by Jan Benton, director of curriculum.

Benton said that under provisions of the Science Education Act enacted last year by the Louisiana Legislature, schools can present what she termed “critical thinking and creationism” in science classes.

Board Member David Tate quickly responded: “We let them teach evolution to our children, but I think all of us sitting up here on this School Board believe in creationism. Why can’t we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?”

Fellow board member Clint Mitchell responded, “I agree … you don’t have to be afraid to point out some of the fallacies with the theory of evolution. Teachers should have the freedom to look at creationism and find a way to get it into the classroom.”

It is difficult to believe that these board members would undertake such a plan without at least considering that the spectre of Dover looms large. It will test how narrowly rendered Dover was, but if creationism is taught under the guise of academic freedom, it will shine a larger light on the nature of those laws that were popular one to two years back.

A story in Panda's Thumb by Kenneth Miller about this relates:

Predictably, the Discovery Institute is now doing the same thing it did back in 2005 to the Dover School Board. They’re turning on their own supporters, and asking how anyone could possibly confuse their ideas with creationism. In this American Spectator article, Bruce Chapman, President of the Discovery Institute, now states that the very people who supported his efforts to get the LSEA passed are “ignorant” of the content of intelligent design theory. Darn. I wonder how those poor folks managed to think that ID equals creationism?

Somehow, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Could it be that the next Kitzmiller Reunion will be in Louisiana?

Unless saner heads prevail, Miller will be right.
Now playing: Peter Schickele - Long Live the King, S.1789
via FoxyTunes

Friday, August 06, 2010

Forthcoming Book by Dembski and O'Leary Takes Aim at Theistic Evolution

William Dembski and Denys O'Leary are releasing a book called Christian Darwinism: Why Theistic Evolution Fails As Science and Theology. The PR announcement from O'Leary, at Uncommon Descent, starts thus:
In Christian Darwinism: Why Theistic Evolution Fails As Science and Theology (Broadman and Holman, November 2011), mathematician Dembski and journalist O’Leary address a powerful new trend to accommodate Christianity with atheist materialism, via acceptance of Darwinian (“survival of the fittest”) evolution.
I sure hope the book is better than that opening paragraph. It is not clear to me that Denys O'Leary understands science and the scientific enterprise at all. The implication in this paragraph is that evolution=atheistic materialism. How did a biological process manage to become synonymous with atheistic materialism? This is only the case if you don't understand evolution. Dembski has demonstrated repeatedly that he does not (here, here and here). She continues:
Dembski and O’Leary insist that this conflict has nothing to do with the age of the Earth. Darwinism is, as they will show, the increasingly implausible creation story of atheism, which diverges at just about every point from the Christian worldview on which modern science was founded.
I need to read the book before I make wholesale interpretations but if it is what she is painting it to be, it is yet another of the myriad of straw men coming out of the Discovery Institute that strive to link evolutionary theory with atheism and every sort of evil that has seen the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This is little different from the attacks on evolution by Henry Morris, who blamed it for all immoral activity on the globe—despite the fact that such activity dates from biblical times. Abraham, after all, didn't say to God "But LORD, surely I can find ten people that don't believe in evolution in those two towns!"

As long as attention can be deflected away from the status that evolution holds as a scientific theory, the anemic attempts to attack it on those grounds can be hidden. She ends this way:
Reactions – not only praise but criticism – are expected and much appreciated! Regular updates will be provided at www.uncommondescent.com, so persons who wish to comment on the project can post there.
This would represent a sizable change in policy for these guys. The Discovery Institute, as I and others have noted, does not publish the email addresses of its fellows and does not provide an avenue for comments. UC does, but only in limited fashion, as this experience with William Dembski shows. My suspicion is that they would only publish positive comments and treat any negative comment, no matter how substantive as being from a troll.

By the way, while it is customary for an author to plug an upcoming book, it is not common to phrase it in the context of a review and to do so this glowingly. That is, at least, conflict of interest. Further, to do it in the third person, as O'Leary does here is pretentious.

Something else to put on my reading list.

Now playing: Peter Gabriel - The Tower That Ate People (Radio Edit By Steve Osborne)
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Genetic Redundancy and Disruption

Steve Matheson has written a great post over at Panda's Thumb that expands on some well-known evolutionary mechanisms that bear a closer look. He writes:
The common picture, painted all too often by commentators of various stripes, depicts a world in which mutations run a harrowing gauntlet of selection that is likely to foolishly discard both the gems and the proto-gems of biological function. Oh sure, the cream eventually rises to the top, but only through the magic of seemingly endless eons and limitless opportunities. I hope that most readers of the Panda's Thumb are annoyed by this crude caricature, but it's the standard tale, and when the narrator only has a paragraph, it's the one we're most likely to hear.
Evolution is, of course, much more complex, with much genetic interaction in the form of linkage disequilibrium and polygenesis just to name a few of the processes that occur. Add to this that there is genetic drift in populations that often results in gene fixation and flow between them that allows for the persistence of deleterious genes. Now it seems that evolutionary "buffering" occurs.

It is well known that, in the course of genetic replication, there is, often, duplication of genes. This extends to developmental genes as well. As Steve notes, most developmental genes are regulated by other genes called enhancers. These are also susceptible to replication. Recounting recent work by Frankel and colleagues on flies, he writes:
What if the redundant enhancers can also buffer against genetic disasters? The experiment was straightforward: they deleted one copy of a major developmental control gene (called wingless). Those animals are just fine, until they lose the buffering of the shavenbaby [a developmental gene] shadow enhancers. Without the redundant system, the loss of one wingless gene leads to a significant change in developmental patterning. The conclusion, I think, is quite interesting: the impact of the shadow enhancers only becomes apparent when the system is stressed, by environmental challenges and even by genetic problems elsewhere in the genome.
In other words, these developmental duplications allow for the genome to withstand some seriously bad mutations. This increases genetic diversity and genetic load in a population, which allows for greater adaptability to environmental change and insult. Neat stuff.

Uncommon Descent Waxes About Science Blogs

Science Blogs has, to read the press, had problems. As Virginia Heffernan writes in the New York Times (quoted from Genomicron):
Hammering away at an ideology, substituting stridency for contemplation, pummeling its enemies in absentia: ScienceBlogs has become Fox News for the religion-baiting, peak-oil crowd. Though Myers and other science bloggers boast that they can be jerky in the service of anti-charlatanism, that’s not what’s bothersome about them. What’s bothersome is that the site is misleading. It’s not science by scientists, not even remotely; it’s science blogging by science bloggers. And science blogging, apparently, is a form of redundant and effortfully incendiary rhetoric that draws bad-faith moral authority from the word “science” and from occasional invocations of “peer-reviewed” thises and thats.
Genomicron agrees and opines that science blogs hasn't provided anything useful for some time. To be sure, some of the examples that Heffernan relates do not paint Science Blogs in the best light. That is unfortunate. Originally, it was a great platform for scientists to write about what was near and dear to them and discuss it in an open forum context.

Using this as a springboard, Uncommon Descent raises questions not about the scientists themselves, but the underlying science. Denyse O'Leary writes:
The whole article is worth reading. Frankly, anyone interested in the intelligent design controversy or – for example – concerned about tax-based mismanagement of public issues like climate change or conservation – would do well to support Heffernan’s main point.

In my personal view, too many scientists are tax mooches. They do not need to be reasonable, because they are not doing anything that is obviously useful.
This is an astounding thing to write for someone representing a web site that is trying to promote a scientific viewpoint—intelligent design. Whether or not Science Blogs is fulfilling its mandate, has little to do with the underlying science. Scientists are humans too and are subject to the same foibles that other folk are. I have yet to see a blogger that doesn't call someone a name in the heat of the moment. Witness Cornelius Hunter's recent column on Uncommon Descent, in which he referred to "evolutionary clowns."

It is the underlying science that is the focus of the attack here and "it is her opinion" that most scientists are not useful. How does she know this? Does she know what the scientists she is insulting actually do? As a society, we take science for granted and much of our everyday life is possible because of scientific advancements that go largely unnoticed by the general public. Discoveries in astronomy and cosmology have helped us to understand how our world works. Which of those would be useless and which would be useful?

Every hypothesis that is asked about a particular phenomenon helps to focus the theory of that discipline and even seemingly mundane hypotheses answer broader questions. But here is where the problem really hits: discoveries in genetics and evolutionary studies have helped us to understand how we can best adapt to our world. Understanding of organ transplant and repair is now progressing by leaps and bounds with the help of evolutionary medicine. Understanding of how viruses respond to selection forces and how they affect populations differentially is possible with the understanding of evolutionary theory and the interaction of genetics and the environment. It is not clear that any of these advances would have been "obviously useful" a decade back.

Further, if the viewpoint that O'Leary and other ID supporters have underpinned the way "science" is performed, it is not clear that they would have happened at all. We might not like some of the viewpoints that some scientists espouse but as long as they ask questions about the world around us, they are useful.

Now playing: The Alan Parsons Project - Eye Pieces (Classical Naked Eye)
via FoxyTunes

Monday, August 02, 2010

More Turmoil In Maine

There has been another dust-up with Paul LePage in which he is said to defended his comments earlier in which he endorsed teaching creationism in the public schools. Maybe. The Bangor Daily reports the following exchange:
On Thursday, LePage said he believes Manning and the Democrats labeled him as a creationist because of his background and religious beliefs. During primary debates, LePage indicated he would support the teaching of creationism in schools.

When Altshuler pressed again for proof, the exchange got heated.

“I’ve answered the question, move on,” LePage said.

“No, the question was have you found any evidence that Arden Manning said because you are a Franco-American Catholic, you are not qualified to be governor?” Altshuler said. “We will talk about creationism in a minute. Have you found any evidence that Arden Manning made this racist comment?”

Replied LePage: “I have looked at my life, I have looked at my career. There is nowhere in my career where the term creationist comes in. The only part of my life … that anyone can ever consider me a creationist is because I am a French Catholic and I believe in God.”
LePage words that in very odd fashion. Why not just come out and say "I am not a creationist." This looks like a Rand Paul move, where coming out and saying what you think might just lose you votes. What seems clear about this is that democrats are going to pull out all the stops with regard to the GOP's embrace of creationism. If they even begin to think creationism might be a plank (surely the GOP would not be that ignorant), the fur will fly.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Panda's Thumb Reminds Us...

...that it is "Happy Lamarck Day." Lamarck is remembered chiefly for incorporation of an ingenious but ultimately failed hypothesis on why things evolved that involved organisms passing on traits that they had subsumed within the course of their lives. He knew organisms changed and evolved, but like so many, he struggled for a mechanism. As Panda's Thumb points out in a related post:
Two misconceptions:
  • He was not a pseudoscientist or a quack, but was the great figure of invertebrate biology (he coined the word “invertebrate” and the word “biology”).
  • He was not the originator or major advocate of inheritance of acquired characters (miscalled “Lamarckian inheritance”). He accepted it and used it in his mechanism, but he had nothing to do with its wide acceptance.
Like Darwin, Lamarck has been widely misunderstood and should also serve as a reminder that there were many researchers during the late 1700s and early to mid 1800s that were coming to understand that natural organisms evolved. It was not until Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace that a workable mechanism was devised. These are facts that largely get lost on most anti-evolution proponents.