Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Meanwhile, over in...Azerbaijan?

Apparently, Azerbaijan is experiencing some controversy regarding the age of the earth.  Durna Safarova of writes:
“And it is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days.” Thus read the draft version of a proposed textbook for 10th-grade geography students in Azerbaijan in a section about how the universe was formed. As homework, the book suggested that students prepare presentations on verses from the Koran, referring them to the Azerbaijani-language website

The textbook draft was posted online at the end of March for public comment: it quickly became a hot discussion topic as Azerbaijan wrestles to determine the proper place of religion in public life. In response to the posted draft, a group of parents, scientists, and public figures used social media to organize a campaign against what they described as a government imposition of religious propaganda on their children.
As the story notes, Azerbaijan is almost unique in the region as being a largely secular state, due to years of rule by the Soviet Union.  It is surrounded by Islamic nations, however, and Islam is becoming more commonplace.  This textbook is a reflection of that.  Safarova continues:
“Until now, history books have only presented the theory of evolution,” said Kamran Asadov, the author of the 10th-grade history textbook. “Students should make the choice for themselves about what is correct.”

Others, though, worry about the impact of religion, and especially the growing influence of creationism and other forms of pseudoscience. Azerbaijanis, curious about new ideas after the collapse of the Soviet Union, were favored targets for creationist missionaries from Turkey.
The idea that students should make up the choice for themselves about which is correct is absurd, on its face. It is the kind of thing that is commonplace among young earth creationists, that we have access to the same facts, we just interpret them differently.  This will be a hard thing to fight for the same reason it is hard to fight in the United States: the acceptance of creationism is tied to an acceptance of the one true religion.  People don't tend to think clearly about science if they are driven by this perspective. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Julie Chang: State panel limits teaching phenomena that challenge evolution

As Don McLeroy suggested, I hunted up Julie Chang's article covering the State Board of Education in Texas.  Here is what she writes:
By swapping out a few words in high school biology curriculum standards, the State Board of Education has limited the teaching of scientific phenomena that challenge the theory of evolution, a move that liberals hailed as a victory.

The panel on Friday approved a pared down version of the high school biology curriculum standards after committees of teachers and scholars worked for months to streamline the state’s voluminous science curriculum for all grades. The standards that covered evolution became the most hotly debated issue during the process.

“It was clear from testifiers that many who had varied concerns found the compromise language chosen by the board to be acceptable, addressing both the need to streamline content while still encouraging critical thinking by students,” said board chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston.
Then comes a particularly problematic paragraph:
Currently, high school students must learn about scientific phenomena that can’t readily be explained by evolution, like cell complexity, origin of DNA and life, and abrupt appearances in fossil records, which left-leaning critics have said invites teachings of creationism and intelligent design.
The origin of DNA and life is not the purview of evolution. Evolution deals with existing biological diversity. The notion that evolution explains the origin of life is consistently brought up by people antagonistic to evolutionary theory, despite this. Second, what abrupt appearances in the fossil record is she writing about? This phrase is often used by people who are unfamiliar with the fossil record.  Transitional fossils are commonplace in the fossil record and, often, “abrupt gaps” turn out to be nothing of the sort. There are certainly periods of time when evolution proceeds more quickly than others, but that is all.

Then there is the snarky remark that critics are “left-leaning.” I am not left-leaning, nor is anyone that I know at BioLogos.  Evolutionary theory is apolitical, as is gravitational theory, cell theory (which Ms. Chang incorrectly argues cannot be explained by evolutionary theory), plate tectonic theory and quantum theory. To argue that critics of some of these statements are “left-leaning” betrays a political bias, rather than a scientific one.

While the rest of the article may accurately portray the changes that were made to the standards, the editor of the Statesman should have flagged that paragraph for removal, since it adds nothing to the story and includes several incorrect statements. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Is Homo floresiensis a Sister Species of Homo habilis?

A short blurb in Science Magazine attempts to lay to rest one of the nagging questions in recent human evolution: where did the diminutive “hobbits” originate?  A report by the Australian National University suggests that Homo floresiensis is a sister species of Homo habilis
Data from the study concluded there was no evidence for the popular theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, the only other early hominid known to have lived in the region with fossils discovered on the Indonesian mainland of Java.

Study leader Dr Debbie Argue of the ANU School of Archaeology & Anthropology, said the results should help put to rest a debate that has been hotly contested ever since Homo floresiensis was discovered.

"The analyses show that on the family tree, Homo floresiensis was likely a sister species of Homo habilis. It means these two shared a common ancestor," Dr Argue said.

"It's possible that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or the common ancestor moved from Africa then evolved into Homo floresiensis somewhere."

Homo floresiensis is known to have lived on Flores until as recently as 54,000 years ago.
How do we know this?
Where previous research had focused mostly on the skull and lower jaw, this study used 133 data points ranging across the skull, jaws, teeth, arms, legs and shoulders.

Dr Argue said none of the data supported the theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from Homo erectus.
I think that it is passing peculiar that we have found absolutely nothing else like this in over 100 years of searching in this area, but who knows what these smaller islands have hidden in them. This also raises interesting questions. Since we know that early Homo got as far as Russian Georgia, is it possible they got as far as Flores? That's a long way.  Is it possible that incoming Homo erectus out-competed them in most places except for a few small refugia?  Also possible.   Hopefully more information will turn up to help us answer these questions.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Slightly Off-Topic: The March for Science

The Christian Science Monitor wonders aloud if science and political activism can co-exist.  Amanda Paulson writes:
The foray into activism and politics is a tough one for some scientists. And although the organizers have taken pains to note the march is nonpartisan, concern that the focus will become political has sparked some controversy and debate among scientists.

Many supporters of the march note that science is already political, and that ignoring its importance to policy is disingenuous. The march is needed, they say, due to the increased attacks on science, threats to slash funding for research, and lack of understanding of what scientists do.

But critics worry that despite all the declarations that the march is “non-partisan,” it will be viewed by many Americans as anti-Trump and anti-Republican, and that it will only increase the partisan divide and cement the impression in some people’s minds that scientists are driven by ideology rather than evidence.

“I worry there will be people there carrying signs that have incendiary messages, and it’s that one percent that will become the meme for the conservative blogosphere,” says Robert Young, a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University. He cringes imagining rural America’s reaction to, say, a sign saying “Make America smart again.”
One of the things that I have anecdotally noticed in the thirty some years that I have been associated with science in one way, shape or form, is that people have a tendency to develop their socio-cultural viewpoints irrespective of the science that they practice. For example, I have never seen science turn a Christian into an atheist, or vice versa.  Richard Dawkins once wrote that evolution allowed him to “ an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”  In other words, he was already an atheist.  He was just now using evolution as a cover to justify it.  Given that I know other people that view evolution as displaying the glory of God, the argument that one is tied to the other is somewhat suspect.

One thing is certain: there are already quite a few people out there that have watched the democratic party and its associated left-leaning groups implode after the election and thought to themselves “Good thing I voted for Trump.” The very same thing could happen here if the March for Science is hijacked by leftist groups. It could very well result in Trump and his advisors thinking that, why yes, it would be perfectly appropriate to start cutting these budgets.

The organizers have a golden moment on their hands.  If they can show the world that the scientific endeavor is benefiting all of humanity in noticeable, tangible ways, then it will have done its job.  If it descends into Trump-bashing and elitism, then expect that the general public's support for science, which is already at an all-time low, will continue to erode and, yes, expect budgetary cuts.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Texas State Board of Education In the Crosshairs Again

The Texas State Board of Education is revising standards for science again, in response to criticisms that they allow for the teaching of creationism.  Andrea Zelinski, of the Houston Chronicle, writes:
The Texas State Board of Education on Wednesday took a preliminary vote to compromise on a pair of high-school science standards that critics say encouraged the teaching of creationism.

The 15-member board voted unanimously to change language in its standards to take the pressure off teachers to delve deep in evaluating cell biology and DNA evolution.

"I was very pleased with how smoothly everything went," said Ron Wetherington, an evolutionary anthropologist at Southern Methodist University and member of the High School Biology Streamlining Committee that recommended the board modify language in the standards to save teachers class time.

Standards using words like "analyze and evaluate" are like "dogs whistles," he said, that ideological groups see as an opening to explore creationism and intelligent design as explanations for the origin of life.

The first change to the standards, if confirmed by a second vote on Friday, would require students to "compare and contrast scientific explanations" for the complexity of cells, instead of "evaluate." The change would return the standard to the original language recommended by the committee, reversing an addition in February authored by Republican board member Barbara Cargill of The Woodlands.
As the article points out, Texas has had a long and heated battle with creationists on the board, led by Cargill and Don McLeroy, continually watering down the standards.  Hopefully, things will look up for students of science in Texas.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Off Topic: Freeze Frame!

It seems that we are having a hard time getting our aging rockers to live past the age of 71.  The latest casualty is J. Geils, who's band had some pretty large hits in the 1980s.  From Boston's WCVB TV:
"A preliminary investigation indicates that Geils died of natural causes," police said in a statement.

The J. Geils Band was founded in 1967 in Worcester, Massachusetts, while Geils, whose full name was John Warren Geils Jr., was studying mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Geils served as the band's guitarist and vocalist. Bandmates included Danny Klein, Richard "Magic Dick" Salwitz, Stephen Jo Bladd, Peter Wolf and Seth Justman.

The band, whose music blended blues rock, R&B, soul and pop, released 11 studio albums and built a large following due to their energetic live shows as well as their unusual use of the harmonica as a lead instrument. The band broke up in 1985, but reunited off and on over the years.
I never, honestly, listened to much J.Geils Band music, not being that much of a fan of stripped-down rock, but it was hard not to like the tongue-in-cheek aspect of many of the songs, including “Love Stinks” and “Centerfold.”


And, of course, the obligatory...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Creationism in Ireland and "Alternative Facts"

I am not sure how this term “alternative facts” managed to become common parlance. The Irish news is reporting on a traveling roadshow that is trying to educate young kids that dinosaurs and humans coexisted (as Barry Lynn notes: "only on the Flintstones").  Paul Ainsworth writes:
AN organisation is to tour Ireland with an event teaching children that dinosaurs and humans existed on Earth at the same time.

The ‘Prehistoric Preachers Dinosaur Roadshow’ is hosted by Creation Ministries, which promotes the belief that the world is only around 6,000 years old.

The fundamentalist Christian organisation says the roadshow - to visit four venues across the north during May before moving to five locations in the Republic – will teach the “true history of the world to young and old alike”.

Children are offered the chance to sit on life-size replicas of dinosaurs and take home an “educational free gift”.

However, it has been warned that the message that dinosaurs did not die out 65 million years ago flies in the face of conventional understanding of natural history, with one critic dubbing the claims put forward by organisers as “dangerous alternative facts”.
There are no such things as “alternative” facts.  There are scientific observations about observable phenomena that generate hypotheses.  If several thousand of these hypotheses support a particular model, then a theory explaining the phenomenon is generated.  That is how we have gravitational theory, cell theory, plate tectonic theory and, yes, evolutionary theory.

Facts are instances in which so many concurrent observations have been made that support a particular understanding of some natural phenomenon that it is regarded as a near certainty.  Everyone on the planet agrees that marble is a rock.  No one has ever observed marble behaving in such a way that makes one suspect that it is not.  Therefore, it is a FACT that marble is a rock.

Theoretical constructs, on the other hand, are open to examination and change.  Young earth creationism is a theory that the earth was created six thousand years ago and that modern science supports this.  That can be critically examined.  When it is, however, it is found that no hypotheses that are constructed to test this theory have been found that DO support it.  Put simply, the theory has no empirical justification.  Further, it is found that the primary advocates of this theory put it forth from a religious and not a scientific perspective.

But you knew this.

The problem is in calling these“alternative facts.” They are not. They are scientifically unsupportable statements made about observable phenomena and that is what they need to be called.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Arkansas Creationism Bill DOA

In a short note, NCSE is reporting that the Arkansas bill authorizing the teaching of creationism and ID alongside evolution never made it to a vote:
When the Arkansas legislature recessed on April 3, 2017, House Bill 2050 (PDF)— which would, if enacted, have allowed "public schools to teach creationism and intelligent design as theories alongside the theory of evolution" — apparently died.

Introduced on March 6, 2017, by Mary Bentley (R-District 73), HB 2050 was filed as a shell bill, with only its title, subtitle, and a description of its purpose provided. Bentley apparently never provided the text of her bill to the legislature.
And there was much rejoicing.


Monday, March 27, 2017

James McGrath: The Implications of Creationism

James McGrath has put together a nifty flow chart showing the implications of young earth creationism.  Enjoy. 

The problem, of course, is that your average young earth creationist would look at these conclusions and say “Well, yes.  They are all wrong” without really understanding the implications of that statement.  Even young earth creationists like Todd Wood admit that it all hinges on how Genesis is read.  Since Genesis 1-11 can only be read one way, then the science must be wrong.  It just has to be. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Onion: Archaeologists Uncover Last Human To Die Happy

The Onion has a story on how a team of archaeologists has discovered the last human to die happy:
“It’s truly incredible—Felix unequivocally demonstrates that early humans were still capable of dying completely fulfilled as late as the Upper Paleolithic,” said lead researcher Evgenia Halytsky, who went on to say that scientists had previously believed any such trait had disappeared many millennia earlier. “The vast majority of research points to our species almost never experiencing even a day of serenity for the last million years, so Felix totally upends any of our previous notions about human evolution.”

“To think that only 300 centuries ago, a human being actually died happy,” Halytsky added.

Researchers said that a spectral analysis of the remains indicated wear in Felix’s lower extremities consistent with a long, confident gait. Additionally, forensic odontology tests revealed that the man had never grinded his teeth, stunning scientists who had until now accepted that this behavior had become ubiquitous at roughly the same time humans developed abstract thought and the capacity to project into the future.
How does the phrase go: “Nobody ever lay on their deathbed thinking they hadn't spent enough time at the office.” Read the whole thing.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Increased Blood Flow to the Brain Helped Human Intelligence

PhysOrg is running a story about research that focuses on the role that blood flow played in the evolution of human intelligence.  Roger Seymour writes:
My eureka moment occurred when I realised that the size of an artery can be gauged by the size of the hole in a bone that it passes through.

This meant that the rate of blood flow to the brain could be measured by the sizes of the carotid canals in fossil skulls from human evolution.

It was a nice idea, but it took the enthusiasm of my student Vanya Bosiocic to turn it into a piece of research. She travelled to museums in Australia and in South Africa, gaining access to priceless fossil hominin skulls to make the measurements.

We found that the size of the carotid canals increased much faster than expected from brain size in 12 species of our human ancestors over a period of 3 million years.

While brain size was increasing 3.5 times, blood flow rate surprisingly increased sixfold, from about 1.2ml per second to 7ml per second.

This indicates that our brains are six times as hungry for oxygen as those of our ancestors, presumably because our cognitive ability is greater and therefore more energy-intensive.
We require a huge amount of fuel to keep our brains functioning and, while correlation is never causation, there is a distinct correlation between our massive increase in brain size during the late Pliocene/early Pleistocene and the appearance of more sophisticated stone tools, evidence of hunting and, eventually control of fire.  One of the other factors that may have had a role in this was the increase in protein intake in the form of animal meat.  Human evolution is a very complex entity because as we evolved and our brains increased in size, we began to manipulate our surroundings in a more significant way.  This, in turn, changed how we adapted and evolved in response to them. 

PSA Undetectable

Yay.  Still cancer-free!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Meanwhile, in Florida...

NBC2 in Florida reports that a bill has been promoted in the legislature that would allow more "academic freedom" in teaching controversial subjects.  From Dave Elias:
A new bill introduced by a Southwest Florida lawmaker could give people outside the state a say in your child's education. The bill would allow school districts options when it comes to teaching evolution and climate change. It could open the door to creationism being taught in public schools. This bill is designed to give students options in the classroom.

Some say it goes too far. It even gives visitors paying sales tax a say.
Evolution versus creationism has been an ongoing debate in Florida's public schools.

“I think people should be given options on different things like that,” said Beverly Horner of Fort Myers. State Representative Byron Donalds of Collier County feels the same way. “It is important that the public is aware of what is actually in the classroom, and if there are objections to what is in the classroom, we have a process that allows for them to be remedied,” he said.

Donalds further said his bill would allow a balanced and non-inflamatory viewpoint on issues like evolution. “To me, those are code words for saying I don't like evolution,” said Brandon Haught of Citizens for Science.

Haught feels topics like climate change, which are currently taught in Florida classrooms, are in trouble. “They're trying to put some unscientific ideas into the science classroom,” Haught said.
Given the massive, overwhelming evidence for evolution, what would a “balanced” viewpoint look like?  Haught is correct.  They are trying to put unscientific views into the science classroom.  The problem is that they do not have the basic knowledge to understand that they are unscientific.  This is why lawmakers ought to stay out of the science classroom. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Meanwhile, Back in Texas...

It seems that the ghost of Don McLeroy looms large in the Lone Star State.  From HuffPo:
Legislators in Texas are considering a bill that could make it easier for science teachers to present religious concepts alongside scientific theories like evolution.
The proposed legislation, introduced in February by Republican state Rep. Valoree Swanson, could allow public school teachers to present alternative theories to subjects that “may cause controversy,” including climate change, evolution, the origins of life and human cloning.

The bill is currently under committee review. If passed, it would go into effect for the 2017-18 academic year.

“Some teachers may be unsure of expectations concerning how to present information when controversy arises concerning a scientific subject; and the protection of a teacher’s academic freedom is necessary to enable the teacher to provide effective instruction,” HB 1485 states.
Swanson did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.

The bill defines “academic freedom” as a teacher’s ability to present scientific information without discriminating in favor of or against any set of religious beliefs. It also notes that the legislation isn’t intended to promote religious doctrine.
But some Texas teachers say the bill could allow them to more easily blend science and religion in the classroom.

“I simply tell my students [that] as educated young adults they have a right ... to choose what they believe,” high school science teacher Angela Garlington told AFP.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Providing effective instruction ought to mean teaching prevailing scientific theories about various phenomena, not perspectives for which there is either no demonstrative evidence (young earth creationism) or testable models (intelligent design).  Academic freedom cannot be used as a smokescreen for teaching what any given teacher might believe. That is a disservice to the students. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

400,000-Year Old Cranium Found in Portugal

A multinational research team has discovered a fossil human at the site of Aroeira, in Portugal.  From the story in EurekAlert:
The cranium represents the westernmost human fossil ever found in Europe during the middle Pleistocene epoch and one of the earliest on this continent to be associated with the Acheulean stone tool industry. In contrast to other fossils from this same time period, many of which are poorly dated or lack a clear archaeological context, the cranium discovered in the cave of Aroeira in Portugal is well-dated to 400,000 years ago and appeared in association with abundant faunal remains and stone tools, including numerous bifaces (handaxes).
The skull is considerably encrusted, still and much work will have to be done. It is long and low, with large brow ridges, a sloping forehead and a large occipital protuberance. It does not look like it has an angular torus, however. All of these characteristics are consistent with this date. Neat!

Here is the image from the short post.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Plug for Resurrecting Orthodoxy

Joel Edmund Anderson, the author of the excellent The Heresy of Ham, has a blog called Resurrecting Orthodoxy in which he tackles weighty issues with all of the aplomb and wit that he exercised in his book.  Have a look!

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Another Human Species in China?

The Christian Science Monitor and other outlets are reporting on a new find from Xuchang, China, that seems to possess intermediate traits between archaic and modern Homo sapiens:
In an article published Friday in the journal Science, the researchers note that the skull fragments date to the Late Pleistocene epoch, a time marked by the expansion of H. sapiens and the extinction of other species in the genus Homo. During the early part of that epoch, Neanderthals roamed Europe and western Asia while humans began to journey out of Africa. But fossil records of human species in Eastern Asia from that time period are thin, muddying the picture of that era for a substantial region of the planet.

The skulls found in China were found to bear very close resemblances to those of Neanderthals, including a very similar inner ear bone and a prominent brow ridge. But the brow ridge was much less pronounced than one would expect from Neanderthals, with a considerably less dense cranium, as one might expect in an early H. sapiens. Researchers also found that the skulls were large by both modern and Neanderthal standards, with a whopping 1800 cubic centimeters of brain capacity.
So where do they fit in the grand scheme of things?
"The overall cranial shape, especially the wide cranial base, and low neurocranial vault, indicate a pattern of continuity with the earlier, Middle Pleistocene eastern Eurasian humans. Yet the presence of two distinctive Neanderthal features ... argue for populational interactions across Eurasia during the late Middle and early Late Pleistocene," said Dr. Trinkaus in a statement.
This kind of population mixing makes sense. We already know that modern humans and Neandertals interbred in Europe and that the geographic range of Neandertals stretched from Portugal to Teshik Tash, in Russia and Shanidar Cave, in Iraq.

The remains are dated to Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 5d or 5e, making them between 105 and 125 ky in age.  Here is a description of the neurocranium from the paper:
The large Xuchang 1 neurocranium closely approximates the shapes of those of Middle Pleistocene humans, especially eastern Eurasians (Fig. 2 and fig. S17). The vault height is low, similar to those of the Neandertals and the higher Middle Pleistocene vaults, and the low vault height is reflected in a low temporal squamous portion (figs. S27 and S28). It is also produced by the very flat midsagittal parietal arc. In contrast, the maximum cranial breadth is the largest known in the later Pleistocene (fig. S15), and it is securely based on an undistorted posterior cranium. Moreover, the widest point is low, on the temporal bones (fig. S17), as in most earlier crania, rather than on the parietal bones, as among Neandertals and most modern humans. In addition, the one complete mastoid process is short and slopes inward (fig. S17), rather than being longer and more vertical, as in modern humans and some Neandertals. These features combine to provide the cranium with an occipital profile similar to those of earlier human crania, contrasting with the rounded profiles of Neandertals and the laterally vertical ones of modern humans.
There are a few things that are immediately interesting about this. First, this skull is YUGE.  1800 cc is monstrous.  The average cranial capacity of modern humans is around 1450 cc and that of Neandertals, around 1550 cc.  Second, the low, flat cranium with the widest point on the temporal bones (just above your ears) are traits of Homo erectus, not modern humans or Neandertals, suggesting strongly that there was some sort of continuity from this group through to modern humans in this region.  Neandertals simply don't have those traits.  Nonetheless, the cranium clearly shows some Neandertal traits in the ear and rear of the vault.  This continuity is characterized by the authors thus: "This morphological combination, and particularly the presence of a mosaic not known among early Late Pleistocene humans in the western Old World, suggests a complex interaction of directional paleobiological changes and intra- and interregional population dynamics."  As more information becomes available, we will have a better idea of how this find fits in the east Asian evolutionary picture.  This is exciting.  Up until this point, we have had very few finds in China that fall within this general time frame, most notably the Dali and Mapa remains.  I will have to rework my section on human origins for the BioLogos site for this region. 

Monday, March 06, 2017

Todd Wood on Is Genesis History?

Todd Wood has a post on the reactions to the film Is Genesis History? and he makes some very good points and a couple of lousy ones.  First the good ones.  He writes:
Does the film present a false dichotomy? From the world outside of young age creationism, it definitely does. Lumping all the other positions on creation and evolution into one monumental thing isn't really fair to the vast diversity of opinions out there. That part is quite correct, and if I was an old-earth creationist or theistic evolutionist, I would definitely be bothered by that.
He is absolutely correct about this.  It does bother me that there is a false dichotomy presented here.  I do not for one minute think that the universe and all that is in it was created by blind, godless processes. I have a firm and strong faith in the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the creating power of God.   I also do not think that the universe was created six thousand years ago.  There is simply no defensible empirical evidence for that.  Second point:
Unfortunately, the reality is that we all divide people up into "us vs. them." Let's face it, BioLogos would have you divide up the world into BioLogos vs. those who reject all of science. That's not remotely fair. Paul Nelson wants the dividing line to separate those who accept design and those who accept only naturalistic processes. That division would exclude those, like BioLogos, who think the "naturalistic" processes are God's design. RTB's dividing line isn't so easy to summarize but I guess it would cut off Christians who think the world is young on the one hand and those who think evolution is real on the other.
Too much of this does go on, it is true. I don't think that he has completely accurately characterized the position of BioLogos and it is passing peculiar that he doesn't mention ICR or AiG and the fact that they are pretty specific about who is US and who is THEM.  I do know from my own blog posts and writings that I am guilty of this sort of thinking and that there are many different views along the continuum from the straight six-day model to flat-out atheistic naturalism.

Now the lousy ones.  First:
The theological importance of the historical Genesis is a giant theme of young-age creationism, even if you reject the way some creationists present it. In the case of RTB or Intelligent Design, the theme seems to be fighting over things that really matter like evolution, and not fighting over things that don't matter like the age of the universe. If we don't focus our real disagreement on the "most important" issues (like design), then we damage our witness by exaggerating the importance of secondary issues.
Wrong. None of these issues really matter to the faith. You can be a young-earth creationist, an intelligent design supporter or an evolutionary creationist and STILL be a Christian. In the grand scheme of things, evolution doesn't really matter.  Every Christian should believe the following:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the father, by whom all things were made.  Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.  He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.   He suffered and was buried.  The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.  He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father.  He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead.  His kingdom shall have no end.  I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, and who spoke by the prophets.  I believe in the holy catholic and apostolic church.  I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.  I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. 
That's it.  If you believe those things, you are in the body of Christ.  Nothing outside of that is fundamental to the faith.  That includes evolution.  Second lousy point:
And finally, to those of you patient people who actually read all of this and are still fuming, "That movie was terrible and misleading, and the greater sin is theirs!" you are part of the problem, my friend. If you play the outrage card (BioLogos), you just add fuel to the fire. The response will be, "BioLogos is the one repeating tired old lies about young-age creationism!" So please think carefully before you email me your outrage, and maybe direct that energy to thinking about ways of moving forward and not just yelling the same things at our deafened ideological "enemies." I'd love to hear new ideas.
This gives cover to those who DO intentionally misuse and misrepresent scientific evidence for their own gains.  One of the things that drives me bat crap crazy is that AiG gets scientific information wrong almost all of the time. If you don't hold those people accountable for their abuses of science, and point out where these people are going off the rails, then they get off scot-free and mislead more people.  Wood himself has castigated other creationists for saying that there is no evidence for evolution when there is, in his words "gobs and gobs of it." 

I may not agree with Todd's interpretation of Genesis, but in his scientific endeavors, he always treats the science with respect.  The same cannot be said for many in the YEC universe. Here's a new idea: how about the folks at ICR and AiG actually treat the science with the respect it deserves.  Science is not the be-all-and-end-all.  It only describes the physical universe, but it does a pretty good job of that and if you are going to reject it, come up with some sound hypotheses that can be tested.

Is Genesis History?: UPDATE

Oh well, so much for not seeing the film.  My brother-in-law went and saw it and want to discuss it with me.  Since I know that he has YEC sympathies, I am not looking forward to this.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

BioLogos: A Geological Response to the Movie “Is Genesis History?”

Geologists Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff (recently maligned by Ken Ham) and Ken Wolgemuth have contributed to an article taking on the geological premises of the movie Is Genesis History?  While the writing at BioLogos is always measured and civil, underneath, one can sense an air of frustration and anger that, yet again, the scientific evidence has been twisted and misrepresented.  As I mentioned last post, “geologist” Steve Austin figures prominently in this. The authors write:
Just minutes into the film, we find ourselves in the Grand Canyon with Dr. Steve Austin, a young-earth creationist geologist. Here we are told that the layers are flat with no erosion or significant channels, that geologists have abandoned long ages for the canyon formation since it couldn’t be stable over millions of years, that remnants of giant lakes are found that once dammed water before failing and violently carving out the canyon, and that a massive erosional feature near the bottom of the canyon, known as the Great Unconformity, has been observed all over the world. A bit later in the film, we are informed that the layers of the canyon preserve a succession of marine ecosystems, each washed in and deposited by flood surges. Conclusion? “The only explanation that makes sense is a global flood!”

Many who watch this movie will think: “These men are Christians and scientists, so it must be true!” Yet it doesn’t take much digging to discover that evidence of erosion between layers in the Grand Canyon is abundant, including now filled-in river channels as much as 400 ft deep. The so-called “abandonment of long ages” actually means that while some geologists think the carving took over 70 million years, others think it formed over a shorter period of about 6 million years. The giant lakes turn out to be speculation, with no actual evidence of their proposed size. The global presence of the Great Unconformity exists only in Dr. Austin’s mind.
We have already received announcements and invites from our home school group to get a group together to go see this film. I think that I do not have as strong a constitution as I used to. I do not think that I could sit through this film in a theatre without having an aneurysm.It is easy to forgive the average Christian who swallows this stuff hook-line-and-sinker but I have much greater animosity for those who promulgate it, knowing that they are misusing the science.  Young earth creationists tend to live in a self-referential bubble, but these errors have been pointed out to Austin time and time again.  At what point does his further promotion of these ideas become a lie?

Yesterday, I commented that I thought that young earth creationism was, ultimately, turning young, inquisitive Christians away from Christ.  These authors put it succinctly:
While the ubiquitous misrepresentations promulgated in this film are disturbing in their own right, their stated association with the gospel message is what is most alarming. This film will undoubtedly make its way into church libraries, homeschooling and Christian school curriculums, and youth group movie nights, convincing Christian youth that they can safely reject “secular” notions of deep time and evolution. When they go to college or start investigating the evidence themselves and discover they have been misled, the natural tendency is to assume that it is Christianity itself that has failed them. Unbelieving seekers who see this film will likewise be confronted with the confounding association of the truth of Christ with massive misrepresentations about natural history. An enormous stumbling block to faith is laid at the feet of these poor souls, standing between them and the cross.
In the trailer for the film, and in the subtitle, we are treated to this perspective: “Two Competing Views—One Compelling Truth.”This truth is clearly that of young earth creationism, and the stark dichotomy is there to let you know that if you don't believe Tackett's truth, you are “not of the body.” This, Joel Edmund Anderson writes, is heresy:
Read and study the Bible within the context of Church Tradition—that is how the Holy Spirit guides you. Unfortunately, this is precisely where Ken Ham and biblical literalists have gone wrong. Even though they claim they are just proclaiming the clear meaning of Genesis 1-11, in reality they have rejected the “Capital-T” Tradition of the historic Christian faith that makes it clear that the YEC interpretation of Genesis 1-11 has never been universally held by the Church, and has never been seen as a creedal fundamental of the Christian faith. Therefore, Ken Ham has absolutely no authority whatsoever to unilaterally declare that his YEC interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is the fundamental cornerstone of the Christian faith. No one has ever made this claim in the history of the Church up until the 20th Century. That is, by definition what heresy is: elevating a personal interpretation of Scripture above what the Church has always taught.
I will be curious how many people go to see this film. I have yet to formulate a ground plan or response to it, yet. When films like this come out and are warmly received by evangelicals, it further confirms to me that modern evangelicalism is in serious trouble and is off the rails.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Del Tackett: The Truth Problem?

That title comes from a post by “A concerned Christian” on The Truth Project, launched by Del Tackett, in 2004.  Now, a new movie is out by Del Tackett, called "Is Genesis History?"  Clarke Morledge, on the blog Veracity, has this to say: 

According to the promotional material, Is Genesis History? seeks to provide a new look at the evidence supporting Creation and the Flood. But it is important to realize that Del Tackett is putting forward one particular view as to what this means, namely a Young Earth, of no more than about 6,000 years old, and a global Flood in Noah’s day, covering the entire planet.
In the byline for the film, Tackett notes that there are “two competing views… one compelling truth.” The problem here is that Tackett is oversimplifying what is indeed the case among evangelical Christians, just from viewing the film highlight clips on the movie’s YouTube channel. There are actually more than “two” views to consider. For Tackett, the one view he advocates for rejects the concept of “deep time,” the modern scientific consensus of a 4.5 billion year old earth, that helps to explain the origin of our planet and its universe, within the scientific disciplines of geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and others, as taught in every American public school and public science museum.
For Tackett, this “deep time” paradigm strikes disaster at the very heart of a Biblical worldview, and specifically the meaning of the cosmic Fall, as taught in the Book of Genesis. There are many skeptical, non-Christian scientists and thinkers who would agree, thereby rejecting the Bible. However, there are also a number of other Christian pastors, Bible teachers, theologians, and believing evangelical scientists who find no difficulty reconciling the concept of “deep time,” with an authoritative, inerrant view of the Bible and its teachings. [emphasis his]
I have already noted, in another context, the fact that, in the trailer, Steve Austin, a young earth creationist, when speaking about the Grand Canyon, states that geologists are “backing away” from the idea that it was created millions of years ago. This immediately set off alarm bells, since it has no basis in truth, whatsoever. One model suggests that the canyon began forming when the Colorado Plateau began uplifting around 3-4 million years ago.  Another model suggests a date of 5-6 million years ago for the main canyon but that older canyons in the system may have been carved as early as 50-60 million years ago.  There are no models that posit a canyon creation 6,000 years ago.

Other problems exist with the idea that the canyon was formed recently.  On the shelf, in the gift store at the Grand Canyon, sits a book called Grand Canyon: A Different View, written by young earth creationist Tom Vail. Here is what geologist David Montgomery has to say about it:
Digging deeper into the book, I read that the canyon was carved when the sediment that formed the rocks now exposed in its walls was still soft. I was puzzled that the authors did not try to explain how a mile-high stack of saturated sediment remained standing without slumping into the growing chasm—or how all the loose sand and clay later turned into solid rock. The book simply stated that, according to the Bible, Noah's flood formed the Grand Canyon and all the rocks through which its cut in under a year. There was no explanation for the multiple alternating layers of different rock types, the erosional gaps in the rock sequence that spoke of ages of lost time, or the remarkable order to the various fossils in the canyon walls. The story was nothing like tale I read in the rocks I had spent the day hiking past.
Steve Austin, if you will recall, did the bogus study on potassium/argon dating of Mount St. Helens lava flows. This man's credibility is wanting.

The trailer for Is Genesis History? makes it pretty clear that the film recycles much of the science that was in the Truth Project.  Consequently, I am not holding up much hope that modern science will be given a fair shake.  Sadly, this is part and parcel with young earth creationism.Todd Wood's clarion call for better science in support of young earth creationism is going unheeded and unheard by people like Del Tackett and Ken Ham.  As long as this is the case, the faithful, who know little hard science, will lap this up, but nobody in the scientific community is going to take them seriously and they will turn new people who are interested in science away from God.  That is sad. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ted Davis on Ken Ham

Ted Davis has a post at BioLogos on Ken Ham's Alternate History of Creation.  He chastises Ham for his recent attacks on Joel Duff , saying that his treatment of   creationist history is a “...distorted historical analysis of the openly agnostic, apostate Seventh Day Adventist historian, Ronald Numbers.” Ham claims that young earth creationism was historic Christian orthodoxy until the 19th century (a claim supported by Todd Wood but challenged by Joel Anderson).  Davis writes:
This somewhat ad hominem attack on Numbers and the blanket dismissal of his extraordinarily careful work is very troubling. The strategy of “debunking” Numbers’ careful conclusions is gaining in popularity, and it bodes badly for the future of the body of Christ, since it constitutes a set of “alternative facts” rather than the truth and unfairly maligns a scholar who always seeks to be fair to people whose views he doesn’t share. (Having known Numbers for thirty-five years, I speak from extensive personal experience and knowledge of his professional activities.)
Let me remind Mr. Ham of what Whitcomb said about Numbers’ book. Whitcomb and his close friend Morris both feature prominently in that book, and Whitcomb provided Numbers with some of the correspondence that Numbers used in writing it. In a talk from 2005 published by Ham’s organization, Whitcomb says, “Dr. Morris agrees with me that this is an objective study by one who claims to be an agnostic on the subject of ultimate origins.” The tone and content of this comment—written by someone who is even closer to this subject than Ken Ham—undermine what Ham recently told his readers. Whitcomb said that it presents the historical details without bias, whereas Ham describes it as a “distorted historical analysis.” They cannot both be correct.
Davis is correct. Numbers” book is a wealth of information and an excellent read.  That the granddaddy of them all, Henry Morris, thought it was also accurate is quite remarkable.  Ham is in his own world, here.  Joel Anderson makes a good point that, in all of the early church councils, especially those that produced the creeds, the age of the earth was never debated:
...please note that there is absolutely no insistence anywhere—not in any creed or church council or pronouncement ever—that the early chapters of Genesis were to be read and understood as a point-by-point historical and scientific account of the creation of the material universe in general, and of the first human beings in particular. The historical fact is that early Church Fathers, as well as Christian leaders throughout Church history, held to a variety of interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis1
Davis focuses on the fact that Ken Ham ignores the role that George McReady Price played in the beginnings of the young earth creation movement, relegating him to casual mentions here and there.  He further points out that this is in sharp contrast to the role that Price's works played in the writings of Henry Morris, who spoke favorably of Price, an Adventist.  Price is known to use the writings of Ellen White, also an Adventist, as the basis for much of what he concocted about modern geology.  Ham seems to be unwilling to admit this, as well.  Davis then hits the nail on the head:
Why do Ham and company go to such lengths to create an alternative history of creationism in which Price and the Adventists don’t receive proper credit? Is it because (like those Christians mentioned by Morris) they don’t want their movement associated with a Christian sect that is sometimes viewed with suspicion? Perhaps that is part of the picture, but I think there’s a much bigger reason behind it. The tangled history of modern creationism threatens the simplistic, highly inaccurate narrative AiG hammers into their followers: that Young-Earth Creationism is, and always has been, the “zero-compromise” option for all devout believers in the authority of the Bible.
This is why Ken Ham ruthlessly attacks any scriptural interpretations that do not line up with his.  As long as "millions of years" can be tied to atheistic or apostate thought, then he can be content to lob grenades at Christians who do not think like he does.  After all, he believes he has the spiritual upper hand.  That is is, at heart, dishonest, is nothing new for AiG.  Ham has been caught in several “terminological inexactitudes” before (the riding dinosaurs, the motive behind the building of the ark encounter).  This is just another one.  

1Anderson, J. E. (2016). The Heresy of Ham: What Every Evangelical Needs to Know About the Creation-Evolution Controversy [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Law of Unintended Consequences Strikes Again

WKYT TV has a note on how the county that gave tax incentives for the building and marketing of the Ark Encounter is going broke:
Ham said the Ark hosted 500,000 visitors in the six months it was open in 2016. A staffer said about 645,000 guests have visited the 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark. Ham called the Ark a success but its success has not had quite the ripple effect that many in Grant County expected.
“It’s been a great thing but it’s not brought us any money,” said Grant County Judge-Executive Steve Wood during a break from a budget meeting.

The county is teetering on bankruptcy and is trying to balance the budget. Wood said they were to the point where jobs may have to be cut. He will propose a 2% payroll tax at next week’s fiscal court meeting. He blames prior fiscal courts for the budget crisis, not the Ark. But he said the Ark had not lived up to its promise.

“I was one of those believers that once the Ark was here everything was going to come in. But it’s not done it. It’s not done it. I think the Ark’s done well and I’m glad for them on that. But it’s not done us good at all.”
What seems to be happening is that the people that are coming to the Ark Encounter aren't patronizing the local establishments or adding to the local economy at all. Even the passing of a bill authorizing the building of bars didn't help.  Hermant Mehta at Patheos has some thoughts about this:
The types of businesses that cater to alcohol-drinking customers aren’t swayed by a theme park aimed at fundamentalist Christians.

Despite people visiting Ark Encounter right now, business owners don’t see it as a long-term success and don’t want to invest in the surrounded areas as a result.

Ark Encounter’s existence raised the property values in surrounding areas, pushing away potential businesses.

Whatever the reason is, it seems fair to say that Grant County leaders doubled down on the idea that Ark Encounter would create tremendous economic benefit for everyone in the area. That hasn’t happened yet. There are also no signs that that will change in the future. They gambled and lost, and they were duped by the Creationists who promised them the world.
I am trying to work up sympathy for the local government who, over protests, authorized these tax breaks. They bought into the Disneyization of Christianity and, rather than see people coming to Christ, they saw dollar signs.

Monday, February 20, 2017

More Nonsense From Ken Ham

A new diorama is being created for the Ark Encounter, in Petersburg, Kentucky that is said to depict gladatorial combat between men and dinosaurs.  Raw Story has this:
“Exquisite design by @ArkEncounter artists for new Diorama depicting wicked population in the pre-Flood world to be installed @ArkEncounter,” Ham wrote.

Ham is the director of Answers in Genesis, a fundamentalist Christian sect who believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that humans, dinosaurs and apparently giants coexisted rather than being separated by millions of years.

“Scientists estimate that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, or a good 64.8 million years before the first homo sapiens, who evolved roughly 200,000 years ago,” said Mazza.
Here is Ham's original twitter post and here is an image of the diorama:

This is the relevant biblical text for this time period:
6 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with[a] humans forever, for they are mortal[b]; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Even assuming that this passage is to be taken literally (and make no mistake, there is no evidence whatsoever for the world-wide flood that follows later in this book), the passage makes no mention of gladiator-style combat, bread and circuses, or large, prehistoric beasts.  Like so many other things in creationist literature, these are all add-ons to the text.  These were added by Mr. Ham to emphasize the “wickedness” of this generation and the presence of “giants.” 

Ken Ham has a peculiar relationship with dinosaurs, once denying that they were ridden off the ark, only to be confronted with a picture out of a book that he, himself, had written showing just that

Dinosaurs are a particular problem for young earth creationism because, if, indeed, they were ridden off the ark, then their almost immediate demise has to be accounted for.  What would have caused them to die off...all of once...without leaving any kind of historical record?  There are no tales of dinosaurs eating people and being hunted to extinction in any literature.  Given that this was only 2400 B.C., wouldn't some of them have survived?  Why aren't they mentioned by either the Chinese or Egyptians, who both had thriving civilizations at this time.  Surely some of the smaller ones would still be walking among us. 

No, in fact, there is not a single dinosaur still living.  We have their descendents, in the form of birds and a wealth of evidence for the transition from the maniraptoran line to modern Aves, but no dinosaurs still exist.   Creationists have yet to satisfactorily address this question. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Darwin Day at the University of Tennessee

Darwin Day week kicks off tomorrow at the University of Tennessee, with a science parade.  The Daily Beacon has more:
Throughout the week, Darwin Day festivities will continue on Pedestrian Walkway, where students can learn about upcoming events and meet Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in mascot form. Darwin Day organizers will also be advertising for the event’s Keynote Speaker Stacey Smith from the University of Colorado Boulder.

On Monday, Feb. 13, at noon, Darwin Day organizers will participate in a science parade that marches from the Hill to inform students about Darwin, Wallace and their work involving evolutionary biology.

Later that day at 7 p.m. in the Cox Auditorium, Smith will present her lecture “Beg, borrow and steal: the nefarious history of flower power” to discuss the adaptive evolution of plants over time.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, a teacher’s workshop will be held in room 105 of the Claxton Education Complex from 9 a.m.–2 p.m.

All of the events are volunteer-run and designed to educate the public on evolutionary biology and its importance in modern society and politics. The idea is to promote scientific thought in a non-confrontational way in order to combat anti-science movements.

“(The events are being put on) to recognize this very important historical figure who has done so much to the understanding of biology, and of course, it drives so much of natural selection, and likewise, drives what has happened and what is happening in the world today,” Chapman said.
Come if you can. This is an annual program to honor one of the founders of evolutionary theory and is always quite a bit of fun.

Ken Ham Once Again Demonstrates That He Has No Understanding of Science

Ken Ham says that evolution is religion.  In an interview with The Christian Post, Jeannie Law writes:
"You see, evolutionists have beliefs just like creationists have beliefs. For instance, this movie — 'Is Genesis History?' — the Ph.D. scientists that are in this movie, their role as scientists in a modern world is to show that observational science confirms the Bible's history about creation, and then the flood, the tower of babble," Ham stated. "So it's not science and creation, it's not science and religion, it's really a battle of two worldviews."

The 65-year-old describes it as a conflict of two starting points — God's word or man's word. He said the dispute lies in historical science, which is science about beliefs in the past. Some believe in what God says happened throughout history and others believe in what men say.

"So it's really a battle between two religions. Evolution, that's a religion. It's really the pagan religion of this age to explain life without God," he argued. "There's always been a battle of two religions since the beginning."
Is Genesis History? is a new film out from The Truth Project, an organization that has a record for botching truth when it comes to science.  Steven Martin wrote, in 2009, the following:
Focus on the Family is promoting their “Truth Project” to churches and small groups. A quick look at the lesson overview shows that, ironically, the Truth Project doesn’t seem to put much stock in truth when it comes to science (see lesson 5). For example, this lesson states that “Darwinian theory transforms science from the honest investigation of nature into a vehicle for propagating a godless philosophy”. Completely untrue.
If you phrase the study of evolution in this way, you don't have to address the scientific merits of the theory. Instead, this is a craven appeal of the emotions of Christians to get them to reject the perfectly valid scientific theory of evolution because it is not of God.


Ken Ham's entire talking point for this perspective is his mistaken impression that we cannot reconstruct the past.  He is quoted as saying:
"When it comes to knowledge of our past, concerning our origins, that knowledge is very different because now you're talking about, 'How did the universe come into being [when] I wasn't there to see that happen?'" Ham explained.
This is completely facile and betrays a complete lack of understanding of how science works. Indeed, daily events require us to reconstruct events for which we were not present. This is no different than reconstructing a crime scene or conducting an archaeological excavation, in which we reconstruct past events. Would Ken Ham actually have us believe that we cannot know anything about our past because we weren't there? That is nothing short of idiotic and comes from someone who has no understanding of science.

Off-Topic: I have complained to the Christian Post about their website before.  When I went to the site today, a video ad that covered the right side of the screen auto-loaded and played, which I watched and then stopped.  While I was writing the post, the stupid video reloaded and played three more times.  This kind of thing is what is ruining the internet.  

Friday, February 03, 2017

Jerry Falwell Jr. To Be Head of Education Reform Task Force

Donald Trump has tapped Jerry Falwell Jr. to lead an education reform task force.  As the Independent Puts it:
Mr Falwell was quick to throw his support behind Mr Trump, and the New York tycoon travelled to his university in Virginia and spoke to students, somewhat mangling a bible reference.

At a campaign even in Davenport, during the Iowa caucuses, Mr Falwell said he had decided to back Mr Trump “because the country is at that point”.

At Mr Falwell’s Lynchburg campus, the science hall is reportedly stocked with the latest laboratory equipment, including a gene sequencer and a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. However, faculty members teach evolution alongside biblical creationism.
Interestingly, most of the headlines that I enountered, referred to the younger Falwell as “creationist” without actually quoting anything he has said that gives that away. It is certainly true that Liberty University (ironically where Ted Cruz began his presidential campaign) teaches creationism by default and the older Falwell was an ardent anti-evolutionist. Still, if I cannot point to something to give substance to my fears, I will hold off thinking this is necessarily a bad thing.

Much, much nonsense has gone on in the colleges and universities all over the country in the last few years. It is pretty clear that something needs to be done.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Book by Dennis Venema and Scott McKnight: Adam and the Genome

Dennis Venema and Scott McKnight have released a new book called Adam and the Genome.  From the BioLogos blurb:
This week on the blog we’ll have a series of reflections on the book from people across a range of views. Tomorrow will feature Pete Enns of Eastern University (and former BioLogos Senior Fellow);  later in the week we'll hear from Ken Keathley of Southeastern Baptist Seminary and Denis Alexander of the Faraday Institute at Cambridge University. We’ve invited Venema and McKnight to respond to these posts on the blog next week. Today I’ll give an overview of the book—hopefully just enough to whet your appetite to get the book and read the whole thing.

The BioLogos statement of beliefs doesn’t mention Adam and Eve (neither do the historic creeds of the church), and different members of our community come to different conclusions on the topic. We think it is important for there to be continued conversations among informed and committed Christians on this and other important issues.
Here is the cover.
Hopefully, there will be a Kindle version soon. I am still wading through John Walton's book on Genesis 1, after having finished David Mongomery's The Rocks Don't Lie and Joel Edmund Anderson's The Heresy of Ham, both of which I highly recommend.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Update on the South Dakota Bill

The Argus Leader is running a story about the South Dakota “Strengths and Weaknesses” bill being bandied about.
Deb Wolf, a high school science instructional coach for the Sioux Falls School District, worries the bill would also undermine school boards' ability to enforce the curriculum they've approved.

"This is horrible, but let's say I believe in eugenics," Wolf said. "(SB 55) says that I couldn't be prohibited, I couldn't be stopped from teaching that as long as I did it in an objective scientific manner, and it doesn't specify what that means."

The bill now moves to the House where, if passed, it will go to the governor's desk for final approval.

Rachelle Smith, who has two children at John Harris Elementary School, was in disbelief that the bill was even under consideration.

Smith worries the bill, if passed, would cause parents to try to avoid certain teachers or request to change classes if a teacher strayed from science curriculum.

She also worries that her second-grade daughter, who loves studying science, won't be learning the subject properly.
The passage of any of these bills would set a terrible precedent. Science is not like any other discipline.  You are not entitled to your own set of facts.  That simply is not how the world works. 

The Hill: New wave of anti-evolution bills hit states

The Hill has a report on new legislation that has evolution, once more, in the crosshairs.  These bills are being floated in South Dakota, Oklahoma and Indiana.  There are subtle differences, however:
The bills represent something of an evolution themselves: They do not specifically mention creationism or intelligent design, two alternatives to evolution theory advanced by religious conservatives. Instead, they allow teachers to address the “strengths and weaknesses” of material being taught to students.

Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, said the new effort aims to undermine evolution by preventing school districts from blocking teachers who question scientific consensus.

“They’re no longer trying to ban teaching evolution. They’re no longer trying to balance teaching evolution. They’re now trying to belittle evolution,” Branch said.

Proponents of the measures say they do not allow teachers to inject religion into science classes. Model bills make clear that teachers are to question theories in an “objective” measure by focusing on “scientific information.”
This is subterfuge on a grand scale. What theories do you suppose they will question?  Do you think they will question gravitational theory?  What about cell theory? Atomic theory?  Likely, these theories will not be examined for their “scientific information.” All of the focus will be on evolution.  What makes these bills so insidious is that they are very hard to repel:
Science groups worry that the new measures will be more difficult to challenge in court. While earlier attempts have been shot down, the new bills are crafted to withstand facial challenges, Branch said.

“It makes the bills very hard to challenge on the basis that they’re unconstitutional, because they’re not requiring anyone to do anything,” he said.

The bills would also put school boards in the untenable position of being open to lawsuits from teachers, if they try to block the presentation of alternative ideas, and from parents, if they allow those alternative ideas to be presented.
One can only hope that these bills will be killed in committee.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

David MacMillan Responds to Todd Wood

David MacMillan, writing at Panda's Thumb, responds to Todd Wood regarding the issue of peer-review of creationist literature.  He writes:
Wood also stated that both the articles I referenced in my original post were, in fact, letters to the editor rather than full refereed journal articles, and thus it isn’t irregular to publish them simultaneously. Here’s where it gets a bit dicey, not because I doubt his explanation, but because ARJ’s editor, Andrew Snelling, apparently made no effort whatsoever to distinguish between letters to the editor and actual articles. That’s a problem.
The whole point of peer review is that it identifies scholarship which has been evaluated by peers. Scientists and researchers learn to trust peer review because they know it has been read and examined with a critical eye, both for careless errors and for systematic errors. Peer review is the dam which holds back the flood of pseudoscientific nonsense (although this doesn’t prevent creationists from trying their damnedest to slip things in). Creationist publications like the Answers Research Journal are creationism’s way of claiming legitimacy.
That’s not to say that individual creationists who submit to publications like ARJ are insincere. Nor are their submissions useless; in many cases, as in the debate over H. naledi, the breadth of discussion illustrates very well the earnest attempt to make their models work. Creationist organizations now make a practice of referring to their “professional, peer-reviewed technical journal(s)” and claiming that “evolutionists are unaware of our scientific literature”. It is because the models do not, in fact, work that we have an opportunity to use their own work against them, highlighting clearly where the different models proposed by different authors are plainly incompatible. Creationists are trying to fit a 4-billion-year-old peg into a 6-thousand-year-old hole, and it shows.
Perhaps the best example of this that I have read in recent memory is the work of Phil Senter, in using flood geologists to invalidate their own models.Young earth creationists want to have their research taken seriously, but since none of their models hold up under scrutiny, and they seem to spend the vast majority of their time trying to poke holes in established science, this has not been forthcoming from the science establishment.  I also question Todd Wood's assertion that scientists are not aware of creationist research.  There are people that do nothing but read what comes out of AiG, CMI and the ICR with an eye for critical science.  Even the work that comes out of the Discovery Institute is put under a microscope.

Snelling should have been absolutely up front about the fact that the responses were letters to the editor.  MacMillan makes the point that the failure to distinguish this smacks of being arbitrary.  More to the point, it allows unvetted opinions and statements to creep in without proper backstopping.  As noted in my previous post, however, my experience is that this has never stopped many young-earth creationists before. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Stealth Bill in Oklahoma

Another &ldauo;strenghts and weaknesses” bill has been put forth in Oklahoma. NCSE has the story:
Senate Bill 393 (PDF), styled the Oklahoma Science Education Act, is the latest antievolution bill in the Sooner State. SB 393 would, if enacted, in effect encourage science teachers with idiosyncratic opinions to teach anything they pleased — proponents of creationism and climate change denial are the usual intended beneficiaries of such bills — and discourage responsible educational authorities from intervening. No scientific topics are specifically identified as controversial, but the fact that the sole sponsor of SB 393 is Josh Brecheen (R-District 6), who introduced similar legislation that directly targeted evolution in previous legislative sessions, is suggestive.
Why is it suggestive? It is suggestive because every other bill that has dealt with “strengths and weaknesses” has been aimed specifically at evolution.This is a common tactic and one can only hope this one goes down in flames. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

David MacMillan on Homo naledi, Ken Ham and Creationism

Over at Panda's Thumb, David MacMillan has taken to the pen again to examine the world-view of young earth creationism.  He writes:
As I expected at the time, creationists were quick to insist that H. naledi couldn’t possibly be evidence for human evolution. However, though they all predictably agreed that it wasn’t a transitional form, they were completely unable to agree on what it was. Some saw the apparently intentional burial in a cave (which would have required the use of fire for artificial light) as undeniable evidence of humanity, while others pointed to the small cranial size and numerous australopithecine traits as an argument against this. Dr. Joel Duff of Naturalis Historia wrote a series of posts as the various responses emerged, illustrating the utter inability of creationists to reach any sort of resolution.

The controversy gives us outsiders a glimpse into just what makes these groups tick. Creationist organizations are less focused on research and more focused on presenting a veneer of authority, as this earns the greatest amount of loyalty from their followers. So it was important for them to present an authoritative-sounding answer; after all, if there really are no “missing links”, then the true nature of a discovery like H. naledi should be readily apparent. The disagreement in their collective responses, however, only demonstrated what mainstream science already recognized: H. naledi really did have a mixture of modern and plesiomorphic traits.
It is this mix of traits, just like the mix you find in other fossils from all over the range of human history, that demonstrate the nature of evolution and how new traits arise. MacMillan has written, as have I, that as long as the focus is on individuals as representations, and not on the traits, themselves, then the constant flow of evolution will be completely invisible. This is the critical teaching of systematics.You don't follow the individuals.  They might not go anywhere.  You follow the traits.

He then has high praise for Todd Wood, someone who I have admired within the creationist sphere as just about the only person who treats the evidence honestly:
Dr. Todd Wood is one of the few creationists who seems to make a genuine effort to approach evidence logically and honestly. In fact, Wood’s honesty about the positive evidence for evolution is one of the reasons I originally felt like I could be genuine in my own examination of the evidence, which ultimately led to my accepting science. Wood responded to the discovery of H. naledi rather differently than the larger creationist organizations. Rather than immediately claiming to know what the new species really was, he withheld judgment and advocated systematic research.
Wood has tangled not just with AiG, but also with Reasons to Believe, Hugh Ross' OEC organization, about whom he suggests that we cannot trust.  He has done so every time with integrity and honesty.  It is his dogmatic approach to the scriptures that I find troubling, but that is not the subject of this post.  MacMillan details an exchange between Wood and AiG that leaves him, like the rest of us, convinced that AiG is completely lacking in intellectual honesty:
One of AiG’s researchers, writing under the pseudonym of “Jean O’Micks”, initially agreed with Wood’s conclusions that H. naledi had too many human features to be considered an ape, but then reversed his view in a second article to match AiG’s initial claims. In response, Wood submitted an article to the Answers Research Journal pointing out that O’Micks reached this conclusion by excluding inconvenient data.

While I obviously disagree with Wood’s views on origins and the age of the Earth, this paper was nonetheless an excellent example of using sound research principles to identify poor scholarship. What’s most interesting, though, is how AiG responded.

AiG accepted Wood’s submission to ARJ, but only after O’Micks had an opportunity to write a rebuttal. Then, they posted the rebuttal on their website first, ahead of Wood’s article...Now, I only have minimal experience publishing in scientific journals, but this is highly irregular. A reputable journal would either allow a letter to the editor in a later issue, or they would require a rebuttal to be submitted as a full peer-reviewed research project in a later issue. Posting a concurrent rebuttal demonstrates that ARJ’s claims of academic integrity and peer review are pure nonsense.
Todd Wood weighed in on this:
Ouch.  No.  Not even close.  First of all, my response was written as a letter to the editor.  I only provided an abstract after the editor, Andrew Snelling, requested it.  Letters to the editor in journals are frequently published simultaneously with a response, and they often do not undergo the same sort of peer review as a full paper would.  See any letter in Science or Nature for example.  That's exactly what happened here.  These papers were posted simultaneously on December 28 with mine first in the queue.  You can even see this in the journal page numbering: My paper is pp. 369-372 and O'Micks's response is pp. 373-375.  MacMillan is just wrong.
Wood continues, in his defense of creationist journals:
After criticizing O'Micks's response as hasty, error-filled, and special pleading, MacMillan concludes that our exchange shows that all creationist journals "lack any actual rigorous peer-review process." Since MacMillan doesn't seem to have any firsthand experience with creationist peer review, that's a bold claim to make. Frankly, I've had more hassle from some creationist reviewers at JCTS than I've had publishing in some noncreationist journals. Creationist journals aren't all one thing, and they definitely aren't created "as a way to legitimize their claims of scientific and doctrinal authority." That's also nonsense. JCTS was designed for specialty publications in the area of baraminology and related creation biology that would be of little interest to the broader creationist community. In my experience, no one is impressed by my articles on carnivorous plants or bootstrapping in baraminology.
Wood is, perhaps, correct that creationist journals are not all one thing but my experience with many different creationist journals is that they all suffer from the same failing: inability or unwillingness to treat the science with integrity and in an honest fashion.

Having said that, MacMillan seems to have misunderstood what went on and so Wood's correction is duly noted.  Wood writes, in a follow-up post:
I think we all have a higher calling, though.  As a Christian, I definitely have a higher calling.  I have a genuine interest in seeing creationists improve the work that they do and the articles that they write.  That's why I publish the critiques that I do.  I know that I've done a lousy job in the past, and I genuinely want to improve that aspect of my work.  Too often, I've let sarcasm and passion take over, and I've burned (nuked, really) bridges that shouldn't have been.  Shame on me.
So I want to learn from the Panda's Thumb.  I want to ponder my writing a lot more.  I want to think carefully about how I respond as much as I think about what I say.  Tactics matter.  That's the lesson I'm learning here.  It's not enough to be on the right side.
There is certainly a lot of sarcasm and passion to go around. Interestingly, Wood accuses Panda's Thumb of being of singular intent: criticizing creationists. Therefore, he argues, they do not necessarily care if they get some facts wrong. I have never known the writers of Panda's Thumb to knowingly misstate facts. It is likely that some assumptions were made in this exchange that were not entirely correct.  However, I have also known from my own investigations, that there is more than enough of this to go around.

For example, from time to time, AiG has posted articles on human evolution by Elizabeth Mitchell or David Menton. They are routinely awful.  Filled with logical and observational errors, they are deceptive and they drip with sarcasm. This is also true with the ICR's Acts and Facts, an organization that routinely gets basic facts wrong.  Further, sites such as Carl Wieland's Creation Ministries International have articles that are replete with errors. In my experience, these writers have no interest in getting their facts correct.  They, further, often have no interest in understanding the basics of science and routinely misstate fundamental tenets and concepts (see Ken Ham's complete misunderstanding of the importance of historical science here). 

While there is certainly a great deal of animosity and sarcasm coming out of the anti-creationist camp, much of it arises from the issues outlined in the previous paragraph.  Does that excuse the sarcasm and vitriol?  No, it doesn't, but after playing whack-a-mole for awhile, the lack of civility becomes a bit more understandable.  Wood has been almost a single, lone voice in the wilderness and has not been reticent about taking on fellow creationists for their sloppy science.  More of his compatriots need to follow his lead.