Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Atlanta Journal Constitution Weigh In

In what can only be described as a heavy-handed editorial, Maureen Downey had written a column on the recent Cobb County decision:

To see evidence of evolution, look no further than the Cobb County Board of Education. From a tax-frittering, pseudo-science muddle, the board seems to be evolving into a deliberate and engaged panel capable of putting the reputation and credibility of the district ahead of politics or personal creeds.

While it is probably true that the decision was correct, the evolution sticker side acted in good faith and with good motives. Ms. Downey makes no attempt to hide her contempt for them. Not professional.

Man the Hunter

A new report in Foxnews indicates that humans may have wiped out the megafauna in Australia some 10k years ago. This is what is also been suggested to have happened in the New World around the same time period.

We like to romaticize the Native Americans and Native Australians and think that they were "close to the land." The fact of the matter is that, as humans, we haven't changed much over time.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Getting onto the bandwagon a bit slowly. I discovered that if you type in "Intelligent Design" into the search engine at YouTube, you get a bunch of videos, including some lectures. Nifty.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Daphne Michelle Kidder

Another reason that I have posted lightly is that our fourth child, Daphne Michelle Kidder, was born on Wednesday, December 20, at 2:23. Everybody is doing very well.

Sorry for the light posting

I have torn some muscles in my back and have not been able to sit for any period of time for about two weeks. Sorry for the light posting.

One thing did cross my path in the last week. In a press release by the organization Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (an organization I can throw a little bit further than I can the ACLU, but not much), the Cobb County Georgia sticker brouhaha seems to have been settled. Part of the release states,

In an agreement announced today, Cobb County school officials state that they will not order the placement of “any stickers, labels, stamps, inscriptions, or other warnings or disclaimers bearing language substantially similar to that used on the sticker that is the subject of this action.” School officials also agreed not to take other actions that would undermine the teaching of evolution in biology classes.

Sounds like unilateral surrender to me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

ID on a Grand Scale

For years, ID folks like Hugh Ross have been championing the "Anthropic Principle," which states, in somewhat simplified terms, that the universe is tweaked in such a way to make life possible and that if certain parameters (such as the age of the universe, the electromagnetic and gravitational forces) were a hair off, life would not exist. The Constant is the force that drives the universal expansion. As the story notes:

Quantum physics predicts the cosmological constant should be far larger than what is actually seen: roughly 10 to the 120th power larger, a number represented by 1 with 120 zeroes behind it. By comparison, [Steven] Weinberg's original estimate was off just by roughly a hundredfold, and refined versions of this argument claim greater accuracy, suggesting anthropic reasoning could provide answers quantum physics currently cannot.

Others are not convinced.

However, theoretical physicist Glenn Starkman of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and cosmologist Roberto Trotta at Oxford University in England take issue with how anthropic reasoning predicts the cosmological constant.

"The specifications used to allow life are rather arbitrary and can lead to very different expected values for fundamental constants," Starkman told

Seems to me that you still have the other 28 dimensionless variables to deal with, though.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Very Old Meteorite

This will get all the "origins of life" people hopping. A meteorite that fell in the Yukon and northern BC appears to have organic material in it. According to the National Geographic story by Brian Handwerk:

The meteorite likely formed in the outer reaches of the asteroid belt, but the organic material it contains probably had a far more distant origin.

The globules could have originated in the Kuiper Belt group of icy planetary remnants orbiting beyond Neptune. Or they could have been created even farther afield.

Whether this lends credence to the hypotheses that life on earth is extraterrestrial in origin remains unclear. Stay Tuned!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Kansas Outlaws Evolution!!

That paragon of intrepid reporting, the Onion, has revealed that Kansas lawmakers have outlawed evolution. As the report notes:

"Barn swallows that develop lighter, more streamlined builds to enable faster migration, for example, could live out the rest of their brief lives in prison," said Indiana University chemist and pro-intelligent-design author Robert Hellenbaum, who helped compose the language of the law. "And butterflies who mimic the wing patterns and colors of other butterflies for an adaptive advantage, well, their days of flaunting God's will are over."

This is truly a major step in legislation.

Hat tip to Jon Reid.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

William Dembski at the Panda's Thumb

The Panda's Thumb relates an exchange with William Dembski in which he is asked to operationalize ID in terms of probability calculations. His answer is nothing short of astounding:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

If it is not a mechanistic theory, what kind of theory is it? How does it rise above the charge of "just so story" that he claims for Darwinian evolution? Once again, how is ID operationalized? How would these discontinuities manifest themselves? ID seems repeatedly unable to address, and hopes no one will notice, this elephant in the living room.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Origins of Life

Although it is not a subject that evolutionary theory can address, origin of life questions are fascinating. In a short article appearing in Physicsweb, it is suggested that organic solids may have rained down on the early earth for millions of years, eventually leading to life as we know it. Interesting.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A View From the Jerusalem Post

Natan Slifkin wonders where all the Jews are that oppose ID? In a November 16 article for the Jerusalem Post (subscription required), he laments:

The prophets said that "the Heavens declare the glory of God." Some of the ancients interpreted this to mean that since (in their time) there was no explanation as to why the planets move in the way that they do they attest to a Designer. But now that physics and astronomy have explained planetary motion does this mean that the Heavens no longer declare the glory of God? Of course they do; and the unavoidable position for the religious person is that God's grandeur is seen in the laws of nature.

Good point. And, in a stab at "irreducible complexity," he writes:

So where does that leave the rest of the universe? What about all those structures that do not even by the admission of the ID camp present irreducible complexity? The unstated implication of their position is that these things do not attest to a Creator. Don't have a grasp of cellular biology? Sorry you won't be able to perceive that the universe was created by God.

Either God is everywhere or He is nowhere. But He is certainly not limiting His appearance in the universe to the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting system.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Neandertal DNA part II

The issue of Science has arrived with the stories involving the study of the Neandertal DNA. The new test, called "metagenomics," has so far identified 65 250 base pairs of what is believed to be Neandertal DNA. The article is behind a subscription wall, so I cannot quote liberally. Here are the high points:

- Neandertals and modern humans share a common ancestor back c. 706 000 years ago
- The Neandertal/modern human split was c. 370 000 years ago, although it varies for different populations tested.
- This predates the appearance of modern humans in Africa which occurred c. 195 000 years ago.
- There is a lack of evidence supporting admixture of Neandertals and modern humans.

Not everyone thinks the results are fool-proof, however. Genomicist Stephan Schuster of Pennsylvania State University State College is quoted in a companion article by Elizabeth Pennisi as saying:

“The divergence [between living people and Neandertals] is so small compared to the DNA damage and the sequencing error” that it’s hard to be confident of any results. If we’ve learned anything, it is that we generally haven’t perceived the full extent of the problems and complexities of ancient DNA research. We’re still very much in the learning curve."

We haven't heard the last of this one. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Neandertal DNA

According to a report in the WaPo, a new genetic test may unravel the mystery behind the Neandertal DNA code. The story begins:

Unleashing a new kind of DNA analyzer on a 38,000-year-old fragment of fossilized Neanderthal bone, scientists have reconstructed a portion of that creature's genetic code -- a technological tour de force that has researchers convinced they will soon know the entire DNA sequence of the closest cousin humans ever had.

Heady stuff, indeed. These are things the fossil record simply cannot tell us. The study will appear in this week's Science and is sure to touch off a firestorm between the continuity folks and the replacement folks.

"Clearly, we are at the dawn of Neanderthal genomics," said Edward M. Rubin of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif., and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Set Your VCR's (Or TiVo's or whatever)

Nova is doing a story on bipedalism, focusing on a family in Turkey that walks quadrupedally. The show will air tomorrow night, Nov. 14 at 8:00.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cultural History Washing Away

Foxnews reports that many archaeological sites are falling prey to "global warming." The reports suggests that climate changes caused by global warming. I am not sure how much is due to human action and how much is "programmed" into the life of the planet, but it is a problem when your cultural history starts washing away.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dolphins and Legs

And in case you missed this, Japanese fishermen caught a dolphin with a vestigial pair of limbs. As the article points out:

Fossil remains show dolphins and whales were four-footed land animals about 50 million years ago and share common ancestors with hippopotamuses and deer. Scientists believe they later transitioned to an aquatic lifestyle.

Much like the Tiktaalik fossil that was found in the arctic a few months back, this shows evidence of an evolutionary lineage. Cool!!

Australopithecine Diet

Foxnews reports that robust australopithecines may have had a more varied diet than was originally thought. According to the article, if the diet was more varied than thought, then the hypothesis that the robusts went extinct because of an ecological shift might need to be rethought. Interesting.

Sorry for the light posts

I have started a new job at ORNL and am settling in. I will get back into the swing of things shortly.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Compatabilism and Libertarianism

David Siemens thinks J.P. Moreland is wrong. Moreland argues the human mind is part of nature and is endowed with libertarian capacities, such that it is capable of true choice. Siemans believes that this is a capacity that only God has. He notes:

Moreland has produced a straw man, but one with a curious consequence. If, as he claims, physics is not self-contained, that is, if there are nonphysical causes of physical phenomena, where does he draw the line? Psychokinesis? Energy vortexes, like those claimed to exist near Sedona, AZ? Crystals? Pyramidology? Alien intelligences exerting forces we cannot detect or measure? Astral influences?

He argues that Moreland has conflated terms for different disciplines:

"Mass" is obviously an important scientific term, from Newton's [f = ma] to Einstein's [
E = mc2]. This does not mean that I can insist that it be applied by psychologists to determine the mass of anger when someone loses his temper. Conversely, I cannot ask how angry a uranium nucleus is when it spalls.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The notion of complementarity

I have always sort of axiomatically taken it that science exists to describe the natural world and cannot resort to supernatural explanations. J.P. Moreland seems surprised that anyone would take that position.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Science quotes

I am preparing for my second forum on ID and theistic evolution. The first one went well and one of the attendants said she will try to fill the room next time. Along the way, I have been reading up on teleology. Here are a few quotes I came across:

Teleology is a lady without whom no biologist can live.  Yet he is ashamed to show himself with
her in public.
-- Ernst Wilhem von Brücke (German physiologist, 1819-1892)

"The species of whale known as the black right whale has four kilos
of brains and 1,000 kilos of testicles. If it thinks at all, we know what it is thinking about."
--Jon Lien, "Whale Professor" at St. John's University, Newfoundland,
speaking to the Norwegian Telegram
Agency (spring 1995).

Then, there is the famous one by J.B.S. Haldane:

"If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of
creation, it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for stars
and beetles." (1951)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Foxnews Page

Fox News has divided its science section into various categories, one of which is "Evolution and Paleontology" and is devoted to recent news of the field. This sounds promising.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


The recent problems that the Republican party has had with science has not gone unnoticed. Scientists and Engineers for America is a new organization devoted to supporting "science friendly" candidates in the political arena. Part of the preamble to the SEFORA Bill of Rights reads:

Science demands an open, transparent process of review and access to the best scholars from around the nation and the world. Mistakes dangerous to the nation’s welfare and security have been made when governments prevent scientists from presenting the best evidence and analysis.

This is probably a good idea. Politicians make bad scientists and I, for one, have been embarrassed to claim the Republican party on this issue. Time will tell whether or not it makes the same mistake that other organizations with laudable goals have made by venturing into areas of the political arena (such as abortion or human rights) that are, at best, peripheral to the scientific endeavor.

Hat Tip to Marilyn Savitt-Kring.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Winds of Change

Blogging might be a bit funny over the next few weeks. I have accepted a professional position in the library at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and will begin the new job on November 6. With a fourth child on the way, there wasn't much debate about this.

  • Same benefits
  • Better vacation
  • Much better pay (equivalent to an assistant professor salary)
  • No ugly, hideous relocation: my wife and I don't have to move a foot.

I will continue to write (one article in revision, one planned by the end of the year), teach online for UT and blog, but this seems like to great an opportunity to pass up. Just ta let ya know.

Time Magazine

Time Magazine is doing an issue on "What Makes Us Human?" CNN has a short blurb about it. I intend to pick the issue up and have a look. I haven't read Time in years because it tends to take a leftist approach to things but this will be worth a look.

A public forum on evolution and ID

I have been asked to participate in a public forum at the Baptist Student Union here at UT on October 10, 17, and 24 with a retired physicist and ID supporter by the name of Neal Caldwell. We will discuss the nature of science, evolutionary theory and how theology should or should not play a role in scientific discourse. The proceedings will be moderated by Julian Reese.

Along the way, we will try to define Intelligent Design and distinguish it from "creationism" and what the evidence for macroevolution really is. It should be fun. If you are local, please swing by. It will be at noon on each Tuesday.

Flores again

An article has appeared in the September 5 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2006, vol. 103(36): 13421-13426) by Jacob et al. called "Pygmoid Australomelanesian Homo sapiens skeletal remains from Liang Bua, Flores: Population affinities and pathological abnormalities," arguing that the hominid remains from the island of Flores are not the remains of a new hominid/hominin species (whew!) . I can't provide a link because this article is behind a subscription wall. The authors write:

Our reexamination of the original skeletal material shows that there is insufficient morphological or metric evidence for a new hominin species on Flores, where evolution over millenia in total isolation is unproved, unlikely, and at variance with Stegodon migrations and glacial geology.

The authors further remark that the morphology of the remains:

...exhibits a combination of characters that are not primitive but instead regional, not unique but found in other modern human populations, particularly some still living on Flores, and not derived but strikingly disordered developmentally.

This will make Jonathan Hawks happy. I am guessing there will be rebuttals to this paper, especially given the bad blood between Jacob and the original discovery team.

Hat tip to Art Durband.

Friday, September 29, 2006

And if I had bothered to read a few lines down the page...

Carol Hill also wrote a paper called "The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?" in which she argues that there is good geological and biblical evidence that the flood was local and the mountain on which the Ark landed was Jabel Judi or Mount Qardu and not Agri Dag (Mount Ararat).

She correctly points out that "universal flood" story has been a major stumbling block to belief in the the Bible, primarily because, as I mentioned two posts back, there is not a shred of geological, archaeological or biological evidence for it. Importantly, she notes:

In addition to a lack of any real geological evidence for flood geology, there are also no biblical verses that support this hypothesis. The whole construct of flood geology is based on the original assumption that the Noachian Flood was universal and covered the whole Earth...The “leaps of logic” build one on top of another until finally, as the result of this cataclysmic event, almost all of the geomorphic and tectonic features present on the planet Earth (e.g., canyons, caves, mountains, continents) are attributed by flood geologists to the Noachian Flood.

She also mentions some of the same problems that Mark Isaak points out in his excellent TalkOrigins paper "Problems with a global flood." which is phrased in a series of questions. If there was a world wide flood, then why do we see x? It is a devastating attack on the world-wide flood argument and should be read by anyone even remotely inclined toward that position.

Although I am somewhat skeptical of the position that the person of Noah can be certainly delineated (Lloyd Bailey argues that Noah the ark-builder and Noah the viticulturalist are two different people) or that the Genesis flood account is not a retelling of the flood story in the tale of Gilgamesh, She makes a valiant effort.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

And in Michigan...

The University of Michigan's Daily Wire writes that Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos has joined the ranks of ID by stating that he supports the teaching of Intelligent Design in the classroom. You can be sure that whatever else ails the state of Michigan (read: Ford and GM), the media will not let this one rest. The Wire quotes him as saying:

In the end, I believe in our system of local control. Local school boards should have the opportunity to offer evolution and intelligent design in their curriculums.

The democratic challenger, Jennifer Granholm, supports the teaching of evolution:

The theory of intelligent design has some interesting ideas, but there is no scientific evidence to support any of the ideas. It would be a great topic in a current events course.

Granholm also stated that the decision about whether to teach evolution or intelligent design should not be left to the local school boards. I concur.

This cuts to a fundamental example of cognitive dissonance in my own thinking. I have, over time, become a federalist in much of my political thought. I think that states rights have been de-emphasized in recent decades at the expense of an expanding federal government.

The problem is that you can't have patchwork science education. Certain ideas must permeate the entire educational establishment. All English teachers are required to teach the use of articles in a sentence. If one teacher decided he didn't want to do that, the students in his area would receive substandard education. The same is true of science.

At the moment, ID arguments rely on negative evidence--that is not how science operates. Science works from hypothesis to theory. ID has neither. Science teachers should teach the most up-to-date and heavily supported scientific theories, regardless of what they think of them.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Numbers and Sense in Genesis

Carol Hill wrote an article a few years back called "Making sense of the numbers of Genesis." This essentially takes the position that when one views the numbers of the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis within the context of numerology and gematria, they make sense.

She starts off with a bang by quoting Hugh Ross, who states:

When readers encounter the long life spans in Genesis, they become convinced that the book is fictional, or legendary at best, whether in part or in whole (Ross 1998)

Conrad Hyers referred to this as " believing as many as three impossible things before breakfast! " Hill points out that the numbers in the Primeval History are base-sixty, a conclusion that was also reached by Hyers and Lloyd Bailey, in his excellent work Noah: the Man in History and Tradition. When one reads the ages of the patriarchs, their life spans end in 0, 5, 7 or 2, with the exception of Methusaleh, who, at the age of 769, dies in the flood or in the year of the flood. She notes that this is a "chance probability of one in a billion."

She makes some other points that would be uncomfortable to most YEC supporters. Namely,
• That the Mesopotamian Ubaid culture was using advanced numerical terminology as early as 5500 B.C. (or 1500 years before the creation of the world)
• That the sacred numbers that the Mesopotamians used were the same ones the early hebrews used
• The literal ages of the patriarchs vary depending on which version of the Primeval History that you use (Masoretic Text, Septuagint or Samaritan Pentateuch), sometimes dramatically.

This is a good attempt to grapple with a truly vexing issue and my only quibble with her argument is when she tries to correlate the lives of the patriarchs with the rise of complex civilizations in the Near East. The problem is that right smack in the middle of the genealogical information is a world-wide flood that wipes everything off of the map. Hill makes no mention of this, an event for which there is not a shred of credible evidence. Arguments such as hers will have to address this elephant in the room before they can be successful in their presentation.

Bailey, Lloyd. (1989) Noah: The Person and the Story in History and Tradition South Carolina Press

Ross, H. The Genesis Question (1998) Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998, 115.

Why I don't use Internet Explorer

I just spent an hour on a post that Internet Explorer wiped out in a fraction of a second. And they wonder why people don't like their POS browser.

The Nature article

Sorry, what I should have posted was this: The Nature article is called "A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopa." It is by Alemseged, Spoor, Kimbel, Bobe, Geraads, Reed and Wynn. It is in Vol. 443 (21 September 2006) and is found on pages 296-301.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Nature Article About the Child

The Nature article about the new Australopithecus afarensis child (which is behind a subscription wall) gives more details. The endocranial volume is estimated because the head is not quite complete and it overlaps with both ape and human ranges. Other things:

• craniodental characteristics place it with A. afarensis
• post crania clearly indicates bipedality
• scapular border is more ape-like than human

This is a really interesting mix of traits and lends more credence to the idea that A. afarensis was a transitional form in the truest sense of the phrase.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Another article on the child

The Myway news article is a bit better on detail.

Australopithecus afarensis child

From the Washington Post comes the story of a three year old girl that, apparently, got washed away in a flood and drowned----3.3 million years ago. The almost complete remains belong to Australopithecus afarensis, a hominid that lived from about 4 mya to about 3 mya. States the author:

Scientists are still painstakingly extracting the fossilized bones from the surrounding stone, but they have already made striking discoveries, dramatically reinforcing the idea that the creatures were a transitional stage between apes and humans. Although they had legs like humans that enabled them to walk upright on two feet, they also had shoulders like gorillas that may have enabled them to climb trees; although their teeth seem to have grown quickly, like chimps' teeth, their brains may have matured more slowly, like those of humans.

This is exciting. Unfortunately, palaeoanthropologist Fred Spoor is quoted as saying:

"If you imagine how this child would have sounded if it was crying out for its mother, its cry would appeal more to chimp ears than to human ears. Even though it's a very early human ancestor, she would sound more apelike than humanlike."

It will soon be claimed by the YEC supporters that this form was not human at all.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"Is Intelligent Design Biblical?"

Denis Alexander writes a provocative paper entitled "Is Intelligent Design Biblical?" in which he argues (quite persuasively in my mind) that it is not. In it, he notes some peculiarities about the current movement:

For whereas traditional design arguments perceive the whole universe to be created by God, ID proponents argue that certain components of the world around us are designed whereas others are not. [William] Dembski suggests that the universe may be likened to an oil painting. Some parts of the painting result from 'natural causes' whereas other parts are due to 'design'.

As he correctly points out:

One of the striking characteristics of the Biblical doctrine of creation is that God is described as the author of the whole created order without exception, both in its origins and in its on-going sustaining...The Bible therefore has no concept of 'nature' for the simple reason that the term is redundant.

He suggests that there are four ways in which ID is unscientific. 1. It proposes a split creation, 2. It uses "God of the Gaps" arguments." 3. It proposes that the designer not necessarily be the God of the Bible or that there even be a God at all. 4. It suggests that organisms that are responsible for great suffering in humans (the bacterial flagellum for example) are intelligently designed, making God out to be cruel.

I am not sure I agree with the last one but that likely stems from my belief that God has created a self-sustaining universe in which all parts are necessary. He is exactly right about the "God of the Gaps" argument. Kenneth Miller points that out in Finding Darwin's God. For me, that is a fatal flaw. Read the whole thing.


I have finally gotten around to joining the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of scientists committed to God's Word. The organization was founded in 1941 and officially takes no position on controversial matters. Articles that have been pro- and antievolution have appeared in the pages of their journal, Perspectives on the Christian Faith. Interestingly, some years after the founding of the group, several members, who felt that the ASA was getting too liberal, split off and formed the Creation Research Society. That organization was headed until recently by the late Henry Morris.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Historical Adam

John McIntyre has written a truly unusual article on the historicity of Adam, in which he argues that the idea that Adam was the biological ancestor of all humans dates to Augustine and not to the scriptures themselves. In it, he notes the same thing that Davis Young observed:

[The traditional] account of Adam and Eve was acceptable until prehistoric humans, Homo sapiens, were discovered by the palaeoanthropologists. Since these creatures lived more than 100,000 years before Adam and across the surface of the earth, they could not biologically inherit Original Sin from an Adam living in Mesopotamia in 4000 BC.

This is a serious stumbling block for the literal interpretation of these passages and has led to more than one theologian surmising that Adam is not historical (I should have citations here. I will try to run down a few).

He makes a somewhat bald assumption, however, when he posits Adam and Eve in the garden at 4000 BC because then, the ages of the patriarchs are taken literally. As noted by Carol Hill, Conrad Hyers and others, the numbering system used in the genealogies is likely base sixty and not literal. Further, he sees no problem taking a literal reading of the primeval history and yet makes no mention of how we should read the accounts of the flood and the Tower of Babel, two stories for which there is not a shred of extra-biblical evidence.

He then takes a left turn and states:

Of course, we could accept the traditional Adam of the Christian church. However, in a remarkable way, the recognition that humans have an evolutionary inheritance clarifies the scriptural account of Adam and Eve.

This is a position I held some years back before (after considerable prayer) I had to abandon it in favor of a less literal reading of scripture and in the face of too many questions that I could not answer. Such a position demands a completely literal reading of scripture and yet tacit acceptance of all of modern science. It is nigh on impossible to reconcile the two.

An interesting take on things.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ice Cores and the Flood

Catching up again. In an article that appeared at the end of 2003 in the ASA's journal Perspectives on the Christian Faith, Paul Seely argues that the information coming out of Greenland on the GISP2 ice core provides "strong evidence that there was no global flood." The article lays out the evidence that annual layers can be counted down to 110 000 years and, in no instance, is there a melt layer that would correspond to a world-wide flood.

He is particularly critical of Michael Oard's argument that there has been only one ice age, remarking:

Oard’s second argument is based on his hypothesis that there was only one Ice Age and that the ice sheet during that time (c. 2700 to 2000 BC) would have been lower and temperatures warmer, and this would have produced “more melt or hoar frost layers (cloudy bands) … Therefore, what uniformitarian scientists are claiming as annual variations are simply oscillations that occur within a single year.” (Oard 2001: 42 in Seely)

If the weather was sufficiently warmer in the past to frequently raise the temperature above freezing, then more melt layers would be produced. But, Oard has confused melt layers with hoar frost layers. Any experienced glaciologist will tell you that melt layers are quite different in nature and appearance from hoar frost layers; and thus are easy to spot and discount. (text note omitted) (Seely 2003: 256)

He further notes:

Oard’s confusion of melt-layers with hoar frost layers and his failure to understand that the latter are due to seasonal differences invalidates his second argument. (Seely 2003: 257)

Marvin Lubenow relies very heavily on Oard's arguments about there being only one ice age. Kevin Henke absolutely destroys those arguments here.

I finally got around to joining the ASA. If you are interested in these issues, you might think about it also. The web site is

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Papal About Face?

Also in the Pew Forum is this note, in which it is said that some reconciliation has taken place. The story states:

Pope Benedict and his former doctoral students plan to publish the proceedings of their weekend seminar on evolution to promote a dialogue between faith and science on the origins of life, participants said.

The minutes, to be issued later this year, will show how Catholic theologians see no contradiction between their belief in divine creation and the scientific theory of evolution, they said after the annual closed-door meeting ended on Sunday.

This is surprising, given the prominent position taken by Cardinal Schonborn and the firing of the papal astronomer recently. I look forward to the minutes.

Home Schooling

The Pew Forum has posted an article relating the push among evangelicals to pull their kids from public schools. It reads in part:

"The courts say no creationism, no prayer in public schools," said Roger Moran, a Winfield, Mo., businessman and member of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee. "Humanism and evolution can be taught, but everything I believe is disallowed."

The father of nine homeschooled children, Moran co-sponsored a resolution at the Southern Baptists' annual meeting in June that urged the denomination to endorse a public school pullout. It failed, as did a similar proposal before the conservative Presbyterian Church in America for members to shift their children into homeschooling or private Christian schools.

I sympathize. One of the primary reasons we don't have Marcus in public school is the generally low quality of the education and the overall sway of the NEA, which is reflexively left. I also sort of sympathize with the evolution part, although if nothing else because it is taught badly in public schools and there tends to be a trend toward philosophical naturalism at the expense of methodological naturalism.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

ABC and ID

By way of Instapundit, Tim Blair notes that ABC is promoting a new book that attacks ID. The tag line for the book, which you can buy at the ABC Shop, reads, in part:

Using all the richness of the scientific and natural worlds, Robyn Williams takes on the stalking monster in a short, wicked and witty debunk of ID. Why make the earth, the solar system, our galaxy and all the rest, he asks, when the Garden of Eden was all that was needed? And then there's lifespan. During long periods of human history, the life expectancy of men was a mere 22 years and children were lucky to toddle, let alone grow up. Why the waste? And shouldn't we sue God for sinus blockages, hernias, appendix flare-ups and piles, not to mention bad backs?

Aside from the myopic view of the universe that the writer displays here, one might also quibble with the sheer snottiness of the language. Sounds like a book I need to pick up for the sheer joy of taking it apart. Faith isn't science. When are people going to figure that one out?

Thank you, Mr. Reynolds.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"...As the sparks fly upward"

From the Vatican, we find the pope has fired his royal astronomer for his support of evolutionary theory. According to a Daily Mail article:

"Benedict favours intelligent design, which says God directs the process of evolution, over Charles Darwin's original theory which holds that species evolve through the random, unplanned processes of genetic mutation and the survival of the fittest.

But Father Coyne, the director of the Vatican Observatory for 28 years, is an outspoken supporter of Darwin's theory, arguing that it is compatible with Christianity.

He has been replaced by Argentine Jesuit Father Jose Funes, 43, an expert on disk galaxies."

The father has apparently been quite critical of ID, calling it a ""religious movement" lacking any scientific merit."

There are other disturbing aspects to this story:

"One source indicated that Cardinal Schonborn's New York Times article would not have been written without the Pope's permission.

The removal of Father Coyne also comes just weeks before the Vatican hosts a weekend seminar to examine the impact Darwin's theory on the Church's teaching of Creation."

Keep a watch on this one.

Darwin = Hitler? Apparently not.

Reader Steve Carr points out that in two of Hitler's speeches, he very clearly states that humans were not part of the evolutionary path. He writes:

The irony is that Hitler, of course, was a creationist, at least as far as human beings were concerned. Hitler explicity rejected Darwinism and the evolution of man.

From Hitler's Tischgespraeche for the night of the 25th to 26th 1942 'Woher nehmen wir das Recht zu glauben, der Mensch sei nicht von Uranfaengen das gewesen , was er heute ist? Der Blick in die Natur zeigt uns, dass im Bereich der Pflanzen und Tiere Veraenderungen und Weiterbildungen vorkommen. Aber nirgends zeigt sich innherhalb einer Gattung eine Entwicklung von der Weite des Sprungs, den der Mensch gemacht haben muesste, sollte er sich aus einem affenartigen Zustand zu dem, was er ist, fortgebildet haben.'

And in the entry for 27 February 1942 , Hitler says 'Das, was der Mensch von dem Tier voraushat, der veilleicht wunderbarste Beweis fuer die Ueberlegenheit des Menschen ist, dass er begriffen hat, dass es eine Schoepferkraft geben muss.'

In English the first quote reads: “Where do we get the right to believe that humans have not been, from the very beginning, what they are today? A look into nature shows us that in the realm of plants and animals changes and developments occur. But nowhere in a species does a development occur that is further from the origin which people must have made if they evolved (developed) from their ape-like condition to that which they are now.”

The second quote: “That which gives people an advantage over animals (distinguishes people from animals?) and which is perhaps the most astounding proof of the superiority of people, is that they have grasped that there must be a creator power.”

These quotes seem to pour water on the claim that Hitler relied on Darwinism for his ideas. I will be curious to see how Coral Ridge Ministries handles these quotes, or makes mention of them.

Hobbits again

The controversy is heating up again on the island of Flores, where the peculiar individuals called Homo floresiensis were discovered a few years ago. A new analysis of the material claims that they suffered from a form of microcephaly. The authors of the study, which will appear in the Proceedings of the National Acadmey of Sciences, state:

“The skeletal remains do not represent a new species, but some of the ancestors of modern human pygmies who live on the island today.”

The authors also state the the initial study by Michael Moorwood was flawed in that Homo sapiens remains from Europe were used for comparison instead of regional populations.

This will continue to heat up.

Darwin = Hitler?

A new special from Coral Ridge Ministries will air on August 26 and 27 titled Darwin's Deadly Legacy. Check for local listings. Christian NewsWire reports on this:

The program features 14 scholars, scientists, and authors who outline the grim consequences of Darwin's theory of evolution and show how this theory fueled Hitler's ovens.

"To put it simply, no Darwin, no Hitler," says Dr. Kennedy, the host of Darwin's Deadly Legacy. "Hitler tried to speed up evolution, to help it along, and millions suffered and died in unspeakable ways because of it."

It strikes me that people promoting this argument are very poor students of history. Hitler was one in a long line of despotic dictators who have practiced genocide. Stalin, Hitler's contemporary, starved 22 million people to death and yet subscribed to Lysenkoism, the antithesis of Darwinism.

Dr. Kennedy also makes a logical error when he says:

"The time has come to recognize that evolution is a bad idea and should be, frankly, discarded into the dustbin of history".

This argument is largely academic in the same way that arguments against nuclear power are. In the 1970s and 1980s, people protested against the use of nuclear power and the evils that it created. That didn't change the reality of nuclear power, which existed independently of the protestors. The same is true of evolution. Just because you do not like something, doesn't mean it doesn't exist or will go away.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Human DNA

The BBC reports on a study in which a gene sequence that is unique to humans has been found. Speculation is that it is at least partially responsible for the brain expansion in humans. The story notes:

The area, called HAR1, has undergone accelerated evolutionary change in humans and is active during a critical stage in brain development.

Evidently, this gene is very different in humans than in other mammals, showing 18 base pair differences from Chimpanzees. As the authors notes, that is a lot in a few million years. Interesting.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Lubenow now

I have finished reading the Marvin Lubenow book, Bones of Contention, and will start writing the review. The errors are almost innumerable and to make a note of all of them would make the review three times longer than the book, itself. I will confine my review to six different categories: General considerations, factual errors, logical errors, using out of date information, misinterpretations, and deception. I debated about what to call the last category, but there are instances in which the author clearly omits information he knows will damage his case. The book, published by a non-science publishing house known more for tracts, is a travesty of science and clearly would never have survived any kind of scrutiny that a mainstream science press would have given it. Time to get to work.

Light blogging

Sorry about the light blogging. I have been snowed under getting a class finished. More now.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Davis Young and Human Antiquity

Catching up again. In the early 1980s, Davis Young, a geologist at Calvin College in Michigan wrote a top-flight book called Christianity and the Age of the Earth. In it, he argued that there was compelling, undeniable evidence not only that the earth was 4.5 billion years old but that a literal understanding of the early chapters of Genesis (particularly the Flood) is unwarranted.

In that book, he expressed considerable reservations, if not outright rejection, of evolution. Since that time, he has written an article called "The Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race Revisited." In it, he struggles mightily with the revelation that the fossil record of modern humans extends back 100 000 years. Dr. Young is kind of over a barrel here. He cannot bring himself to accept evolutionary theory, but at the same time, he knows good and well that absolute dating methods work exactly the way they are supposed to. This understanding of the fossil record also has an impact on his understanding of the later chapters of the Primeval History (Genesis 1-11). Along the way, he makes a statement that many Christians privately think but don't say publicly:

I suspect that ancient Near Eastern flood epics and Genesis 6-9 are referring to the same event. The similarity in structure between Genesis 1-11, the Atrahasis Epic, and the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic renders it likely that all have the same deluge in mind. If so, the biblical flood is appropriately identified with a flood that occurred shortly before the time of the Sumerian king Gilgamesh who lived in the early 3rd millennium B.C. Thus the biblical flood should probably be dated in the 4th or very early 3rd millennium B.C. Possibly the biblical flood should be related to some of the flood deposits encountered at a variety of archeological sites within Mesopotamia. If this is the case, early evidences of agriculture at ancient Near Eastern sites plainly pre-date the biblical flood, just what seems to be suggested by Genesis.

His second revelation is crushing because it completely circumvents the anti-evolution arguments. With regard to the claim about the antiquity of modern humans, he writes:

This claim has nothing to do with evolutionary theories of human origins or even with such ancient hominids as Homo erectus, Homo habilis, or the various species of Australopithecus. The claim does not even concern remains of Neanderthal man. I am dealing solely with the fossil evidence of anatomically modern humans. That evidence suggests that anatomically modern humans may have appeared as early as 100,000 years ago in Africa while elsewhere in the Old World the appearance of anatomically modern humans occurred somewhat later but surely by 40,000 years before the present.

Interestingly, there is evidence for the appearance of modern humans in the Near East at about 100 thousand years ago. It is not a done deal that modern humans appeared in Africa first.

Dr. Young suggests that if we wish to continue to think of Adam and Eve as actual, historical people, there are three alternatives open to us.
1. Adam and Eve as Recent Ancestors, in which there are humans living today that were not descended from Adam and Eve. Firstly, how would you know who was who and, and can these "non-adamaic" people have union with God?
2. Adam and Eve as Recent Representatives, in which Adam and Eve are the actual representatives of humans, both ancestral and descendent. Original sin, then is not bound up in Adam per se, but in all people related to him. It is, as Young puts it, a "federal headship."
3. Adam and Eve as Ancient Ancestors, in which Adam and Eve were biological progenitors of modern humans as a whole. This is okay scientifically, but makes mincemeat of the genealogies in Genesis.

By his own admission, Young's intention is not to solve the problem, but to get Christians thinking about what the problems are with a straight literal reading of Genesis. He congenially closes by saying:

Once we have solved this issue, perhaps we will be ready to solve the evolution question!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Glad to meet ya?

It is now being suggested that Neandertals and modern humans may never have met. That is the crux of a Foxnews story on the subject. The article states:

The overlap figure shrank in February with new research by Paul Mellars of Cambridge University based on improved carbon-14 dating to show that modern humans started encroaching from Israel upon Neanderthal territory in the Balkans 3,000 years sooner than previously thought.

This rate suggests Neanderthals succumbed sooner to big climate shifts or competition from modern humans for resources and that they might have overlapped for only 1,000 years at sites in western France.

As John Hawks notes, there is now no evidence that Neandertals and modern humans overlapped at all in Europe. I am not sure how many people are going to go for the idea that Neandertals were responsible for the Aurignacian, however.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Australian Nightmares

Foxnews reports that a group of researchers working out of Queensland have found fossil evidence of remarkable creatures in Australia. The report states:

Many of the fossils are older than 24 million years; one of the deposits is thought to contain fossils up to 500 million years old, according to Prof. Mike Archer, the university's dean of science.

A saber-toothed kangaroo and a giant 10-foot-tall, 881-pound bird scientists nicknamed the"demon duck of doom"were among the largely unknown species uncovered in the dig, Archer told reporters Wednesday.

"They were galloping kangaroos, they didn't hop,"Archer said."They were also far more muscly than the kangaroos we know, with sharp saber-like incisors and powerful forelimbs to help rip and tear their prey."

One must remember that even 24 million years ago, the topography and environment in Australia were very different than today. That is especially true for 500 mya. I love it when this stuff is unearthed.

Fish changing sex

The Daily Mail reports that a third of fish are changing sex due to "gender bending" pollution. The story reports:

The Environment Agency study looked at the health of more than 1600 roach found in 51 rivers and streams around the country.

Overall, a third of the male fish were between sexes. However, in one waterway, near a particularly heavy discharge of treated sewage more than 80 per cent had female characteristics.

Tests showed the males developed female sex organs and were producing eggs. Such fish also produce less sperm and the sperm that is produced is of low quality. Females may also be affected, producing abnormal eggs.

Previous studies have that cod, trout and flounders are all being feminised.

Evolutionarily, this could be disastrous for the English human population as well, as this is slipping into the English drinking water:

Although there is no conclusive proof, it is thought the hormone, which has similar actions in fish and humans, could be partly to blame for falling sperm counts in men.

British men's sperm counts dropped by almost a third between 1989 and 2002, and one in six couples now have difficulty conceiving.


Sorry for the light posting

Sorry for the light posting. I have been teaching a class and working full-time and it has been draining time-wise.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Darwin's End

Jonathan Last, writing for The Weekly Standard, notes that fertility rates are falling at precipitous rates worldwide. He notes, for example:

Between 1990 and 2000, every region in the world saw the total fertility rate decline. Among nations with rates above the "replacement rate," only two countries saw a rise in fertility: Suriname and Israel, whose rates increased by 0.17 and 0.01 children per woman, respectively. We see the same trend in nearly every country of every size in every climate and with every conceivable political, religious, and economic system--which suggests a complicated set of factors at work. It raises at least the possibility that the root of the problem may involve modernity itself.

While the factors that contribute to this are complex, he posits that the interaction of a few of them, namely an increase in the number of working women, the diminishing role of children as a labor force, an increase in abortion and women delaying having children until their thirties play critical parts in this process. An interesting article.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Speed of Light and Other Oddities

Foxnews reports on work by astronomer Michael Murphy, who argues that astronomical constants which were theorized by Albert Einstein may not be as constant as was once thought. In somewhat dense prose, the story relates the following:

The speed of light, for instance, might be measured one day with a ruler and a clock. If the next day the same measurement gave a different answer, no one would be able to tell just from the data if it was the speed of light, the ruler's length or the clock's rate of ticking that had changed.

To avoid this confusion, scientists use dimensionless constants — pure numbers that are ratios of measured quantities. In the case of the shifts in Murphy's data, the relevant dimensionless constant is the fine structure constant (often designated by the Greek letter alpha), which characterizes the strength of the electromagnetic force.

Interesting. There are detractors, however. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Grover Krantz

The WaPo posts a story about the late anthropologist Grover Krantz and where his bones are currently residing. I was fortunate to spend a good bit of time with Grover at a week-long conference in Germany once. He was a very articulate and good-natured man, if a bit unconventional. Grover got Pancreatic cancer a few years ago and passed away. It is a good article.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Abrupt Warming

In an article that can only be described as peculiar, a study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states:

"Earth's climate is undergoing an abrupt change, ending a cooler period that began with a swift "cold snap" in the tropics 5,200 years ago that coincided with the start of cities, the beginning of calendars and the biblical great flood, a leading expert on glaciers has concluded."

Eh? Shades of "Day After Tomorrow!" Given the pervasive lack of geological support for the world-wide flood, one wonders why he inserted that last tidbit.

Another scientist, Gavin Schmidt, notes:

"You would have to put that argument as more intriguing rather than definitive," Schmidt said. "There are a number of issues in the tropical ice cores that are problematic for dating things 4,000 to 5,000 years ago."

If the Recent Earth Creation camp is paying attention, they will take this and run with it.

A PowerPoint Presentation on the Age of the Universe and the Earth

A local group that calls themselves GENESTN.ORG has put together a PowerPoint presentation explaining evidence for the age of the universe and of the earth. It is technically a bit dense but very informative. This group is dedicated to spreading the word about the lack of support behind YEC arguments.

Monday, June 26, 2006

No More Links From the NYT

Today begins my boycott of the New York Times. I will neither read it on the web, nor will I ever pick up another copy of it. While it has been awhile since I have actively read the paper, I will no longer link to posts that appear there. Such is my disgust with the paper. The LA Times does not present as much a problem since little of interest ever emerges from that paper. Ditto the WSJ. Instapundit has a good roundup.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

IAP Statement on the Teaching of Evolution

Here is the link for the statement that I mentioned in the previous post.

"Scientists Urge Evolution Lessons"

The BBC reports that 67 national science academies have signed a statement urging better education of evolution and natural science. One scientist, Yves Quere, is quoted as saying:

"We know of schools in various parts of the world where the children are told that the Earth is about 8,000 years old," said Yves Quere, co-chair of the Inter Academy Panel on International Issues, the global network of science academies.

"So in this statement we say you cannot teach this to children, it is wrong."

The article has user comments which are interesting.

Hat tip to R.L. Macklin

Friday, June 16, 2006

Radiometric Dating

I just finished reading Roger Wiens' excellent essay Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective. He effectively lays out the case for accepting the basis behind radiometric dating and what the evidence shows. I am also reading up on the RATE project, an ICR-related think tank that put out a book titled Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth a year back. More in a bit.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

More From the Primordial Soup People

Foxnews reports on new thoughts involving the origin of life. He writes:

"Life could have started up from the small molecules that nature provided," says Robert Shapiro, a chemist from New York University. Shapiro and others insist that the first life forms were self-contained chemistry experiments that grew, reproduced and even evolved without needing the complicated molecules that define biology as we now know it.

Very speculative, but interesting. It is important to note that his area of research, biopoesis, does not involve evolutionary theory. Read the whole thing.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Can We Talk?

For reasons too numerous to mention, my wife Melanie and I are homeschooling our oldest child Marcus. We are using the Sonlight Curriculum which, while unabashedly Christian in slant, does not present revisionist history and mixes historical context with novels from the time, so the child gets the look and feel of what went on. The math curriculum has also been well-regarded. Naturally, though, I was apprehensive about the science curriculum. Imagine my surprise when I read, in the back of the science workbook, the following chapter title: Young and Old Earth Creationists: Can We Even Talk Together. The first few paragraphs are illuminating and, sadly, very true. The author, John Holtzmann, writes:

Over the last few years, it appears that the vast majority of evangelical Christian homeschoolers--and certainly the majority of leaders in the evangelical Christian homeschool movement--have aligned themselves with a particular interpretation of Genesis 1-11. Specifically, they have aligned themselves with what is known as a Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) perspective.

I wrote the following paper because, it seems, the move to a YEC perspective has been so strong that any Bible-believing Christian who dares publicly to raise serious questions about the YEC model risks social ostracism and possible official exclusion from Homeschool groups or events on that ground alone.

Whoa!! Reading this came as quite a shock to me for exactly the reasons he points out. I figured I was going to have to write my own science curriculum for the older years to combat the pervasiveness of the YEC viewpoint. Interestingly, I have never seen the term YEC used by a Christian before. It is almost always used by opponents of this view in a somewhat pejorative fashion.

Holtzmann points out that many Christians view the age of the earth as being important because of the slippery slope argument, but also that the correct interpretation of Genesis 1-11 (called the Primeval History by most theologians because it differs so radically from the rest of scripture) is exceedingly difficult.

He asks the question of whether it is appropriate to use scientific data to interpret the scriptures. He then, seemingly, answers his own question by using only scriptural passages that lend themselves to a possible Old earth viewpoint. I don't always agree with his conclusions and he relies a bit to heavily on Answers in Genesis, which is home to some of the most ardent YECers in the business. But hats off to him for broaching the subject in an open, thought-provoking fashion.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

'No Croc Left Behind'

I missed this when it came out, but Scott Ott, over at Scrappleface relates the following news item.

'No Croc Left Behind'
by Scott Ott

(2005-02-24) — After the recent discovery of two ancient crocodile skulls which closely resemble modern crocodiles despite 40 million years of evolution, the National Science Foundation (NSF) today issued a grant of $56 million to fund the new ‘No Croc Left Behind’ (NCLB) program.

The program, administered by the American Institute of Biological Science (AIBS) is designed to end the “soft bigotry of low expectations which has kept crocodiles mired in the backwaters of evolutionary progress for tens of millions of years.”

Genetic scientists at AIBS will attempt to “aggressively hyper-evolve” the modern crocodile to “bring it more in line with Darwinian expectations.”

“We’re designing some random mutations to improve the crocodile’s survivability,” said an unnamed AIBS scientist, “Future croc features might include a retractable periscope, a gas-powered outboard motor and perhaps skin that’s unfit for making shoes and purses. Of course, taxonomically, it will still be a crocodile…but we’re just scientists, not miracle workers.”

Friday, June 02, 2006

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back to Georgia

The AP reports that a federal appeals court has returned the Georgia evolution sticker case to the lower court because there was not enough evidence that the government's actions are "religiously neutral." The article relates the following astounding school policy:

It had been the school's policy since 1995 to tear out chapters on evolution from science textbooks out of "respect for the family teachings of a significant number of Cobb County citizens," according to Thursday's opinion. But, in the spring of 2002, when the school district selected a new biology book that contained 101 pages on evolution, school officials decided to affix a disclaimer sticker instead of removing the section.

Tear them Out??? Would you tear out of a physics textbook the chapters on gravity? The article quotes Cobb County schools atrorney Glenn Brock as saying about the sticker: "It was there to promote critical thinking." That is a smokescreen. You should think critically about everything that you learn. To single out evolutionary theory for "critical thinking" means you don't think it bears up under such thinking. Newsflash! It does.

According to the report, the problem that the 11th circuit court of appeals has is procedural:

At the heart of the federal appeals court ruling is whether school officials had been pressured into adopting the stickers. The lower court said school officials responded to a 2,300-signature petition that demanded the disclaimer, but the appeals court panel was never presented a copy of the petition or evidence that one was ever submitted before the school system opted for the stickers.

I would want to see the petition as well, especially in light of the fact that a bunch of copies of Of Pandas and People were trucked in at night when nobody was looking! While I am sure that funny business goes on in the science community, it would not be the first time that there was deception on the part of creationists.

A Disturbing Conversation

I just had lunch with a friend of mine and his fiancee. He teaches human palaeontology at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock. During our conversation, we were talking about the disagreement within the paleo community about fossil human taxonomy. He idly mentioned that he just doesn't address that in his classes because he already has a problem with 80% of the students not believing a word of what he is saying, anyway.

Lubbock, is, evidently, the second most conservative town in the nation (by some standards, at least) behind Provo, Utah. Consequently, creationism teaching is pervasive. This must have a strong impact on the local high schools.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jeffrey Schwartz: Darwin's theory not evolved enough

Pitt anthropologist Jeffrey Schwartz is the subject of an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Schwartz has always been somewhat of a maverick in the palaeoanthro community. This short article gives you an indication of why.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Intelligent Judging

George Annas writes an article for the New England Journal of Medicine called "Intelligent judging--evolution in the classroom and the courtroom," in which he argues that the science community needs to be prepared for a "fourth wave" of creationism in the future, to take a different form. According to Annas, the first three waves were: outlawing evolution education, creationism, and intelligent design. He believes that the fourth wave will show up in the form of the "teach the controversy" argument. As has been pointed out by many different writers, this unwittingly elevates the merits of the ID position to be on equal footing as mainstream science. As Annas notes:

Requiring public-school science teachers to teach specific religion-based alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution is just as bad, in the words of political comedian Bill Maher, as requiring obstetricians to teach medical students the alternative theory that storks deliver babies.

Indeed. Hat tip to Marilyn Savitt-Kring.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Genetics, Ya Gotta Love It!!

That last two weeks have been somewhat hellish for the Kidder family. Two weeks ago, during a routine 4-year-old check up, our pediatrician discovered a supraclavicular lump on the left side of my daughter Madeline's neck. Concerned, he did the normal blood work to see if anything was going on internally. The bloodwork came back clean, so he referred us to an orthopaedic specialist. When we got there, the specialist said "right church, wrong pew." It was his opinion that it was a lymphatic adenopathy and he set up an appointment for an MRI.

Enlarged lymph nodes under your chin are not usually a problem. Enlarged lymph nodes in your abdomen are not usually a problem. These usually reflect some kind of infection but nothing usually serious. Enlarged supraclavicular lymph nodes ALMOST ALWAYS reflect something very serious going on. If the lump is on the right side, it almost always means lymphoma.

The MRI was done last Thursday and we spent the weekend not knowing what was going on. In the meantime, my daughter played happily and was perfectly norrmal. Monday afternoon, we got the news. When they aimed the cameras at the lump, the reflection came back as healthy normal bone, but not where bone ought to be. At the follow-up visit with the orthopaedic surgeon, everybody sat down and had a good laugh.

My daughter has a cervical rib. Ordinarily, you have seven cervical vertebrae, twelve thoracic vertebrae and five lumbar vertebrae. Sometimes someone will have a sixth lumbar vertebra but that is rare. The ribs usually begin with the first thoracic vertebra. In 0.5% of the population, however, a rib grows out of the seventh cervical vertebra. That is what is going on with Madeline. So, long story short, she is fine. It is something we will have to watch to make sure it doesn't interfere with her range of motion or cause nerve damage, but all's well that ends well.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Not Quite a Clean Break

Two news outlets, the WaPo and the BBC, report on new studies involving the ape-human split. According to the story, new DNA analysis indicates that the human female X sex chromosome is 1.2 million years younger than the other human chromosomes. The money quote in the WaPo article, written by David Brown, is:

If this theory proves correct, it will mean modern people are descended from something akin to chimp-human hybrids. That is a new idea, and it challenges the prevailing view that hybrids tend to die out.

From the BBC article comes this gem:

A US team says its results hint at the possibility that interbreeding occurred between the two lines for thousands, even millions, of years. This hybridisation would have been important in swapping genes for traits that allowed the emerging species to survive in their environments, explain the scientists affiliated to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Harvard Medical School.

I think a lot of this pretty speculative and will wait for the Nature article. It certainly is provacative, however.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tattersall's Take on the Road to Humanity

Writing in the journal Nature, Ian Tattersall reviews a new book by Ann Gibbons, called The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors. In the review, he notes the following:

But to complicate matters further, palaeoanthropology is too often seen as a sort of zero-sum game, with the result that published specimens are often vigorously defended from the eyes of rival scientists, making it impossible to test the describer's published assertions. What other branch of science keeps it primary data secret?

It is this that certainly spurs on YECs like Marvin Lubenow, who argue that we deal in a world of illusory evidence. Not good.

Friday, May 12, 2006

"Evolution's Bottom Line"

Holden Thorp in an op-ed for the NYT writes of the far-reaching consequences of evolutionary theory. Two things leap off the page. One addresses the ongoing work in genetics:

Since evolution has been the dominant theory of biology for more than a century, it's a safe statement that all of the wonderful innovations in medicine and agriculture that we derive from biological research stem from the theory of evolution. Recent, exciting examples are humanized antibodies like Remicade for inflammation and Herceptin for breast cancer, both initially made in mice. Without our knowledge of the evolution of mice and humans and their immune systems, we wouldn't have such life-saving and life-improving technologies.

The other, the consequences of the debate in schools:

One Kansas biology teacher, a past president of the National Association of Biology Teachers, told Popular Science magazine that students from Kansas now face tougher scrutiny when seeking admission to medical schools. And companies seeking to innovate in the life sciences could perhaps be excused for giving the Sunflower State a miss: one Web site that lists companies looking for workers in biotechnology has more than 600 hiring scientists in California and more than 240 in Massachusetts. Kansas has 11.

Its time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Hat tip to RL Macklin.

Evolution: the Lighter Side

Scott Feschuk writes for MacCleans that Evolution Theory Always Comes Back to Van Halen. An example:

Item: a massive star that exploded soon after the dawn of time has been detected and viewed by astronomers, even though the event took place 12.8 billion years ago (or, for those who hold a creationist view, last Wednesday).

He notes that this is an ongoing series. Hopefully so!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Case in Point

Back in a previous post, I mentioned an article by Dick Fischer titled Young-earth creationism: a literal mistake. In it, he noted,

Why have so many conservative Christians adopted young-earth creationism? The answer lies in this: while YECs can be criticized for using flawed logic in this particular area, in other areas of Christian doctrine, in general, their theology is quite sound.

That particular perspective was brought home to me today when I received an advert for a new Ann Coulter book titled Godless: the Church of Liberalism," in which she reportedly tackles "Darwinism." Now, I have a tendency to enjoy Ann Coulter's columns, if nothing else because they are thought-provoking, even if I might find some of her conclusions suspect. However, as good a political analyst as she may be, I am reasonably sure that she is not an evolutionary biologist, nor does she work in the field. I probably ought to read the book before I make a snap judgment, but every blinkin' time I encounter a non-scientist tackling evolutionary biology, it goes badly. This is why I don't write about politics.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Answers in Creation web site

I have come across a huge web site called Answers in Creation. The self-proclaimed viewpoint is as follows:

The purpose of this index is to list all the claims of young earth creationists, and provide rebuttals to those claims. Although the idea for this index came from the listing of creationist claims, this index differs in that it answers the arguments from an old earth creationist perspective.

The gentleman who runs the site is Greg Nyman, a member of the
Affiliation of Christian Geologists. Many of the articles are written by Mr. Nyman, although he links to other writers, such as Hugh Ross, Glenn Morton and Kevin Henke. There is a wealth of information here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Discovery Institute Scrambling

The Seattle Times (hometown newspaper for the Discovery Institute) reports that things are not well after Dover.

"Dover is a disaster in a sense, as a public-relations matter," said Bruce Chapman, a former Seattle city councilman and founder of the Discovery Institute, the country's primary supporter of intelligent design. "It has given a rhetorical weapon to the Darwinists to say a judge has settled this," he said.

The Times writer, David Postman, reveals that even staunch conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh have joined in.

"Let's make no mistake," Limbaugh said on his radio show. "The people pushing intelligent design believe in the biblical version of creation. Intelligent design is a way, I think, to sneak it into the curriculum and make it less offensive to the liberals."

Probably the most stinging critique came from Paul Chesser, of the John Locke Foundation, who remarked:

"Why do Christians wage combat over taking Christ out of Christmas but employ weak dodge-and-parry tactics when educating their kids about life's beginnings?" Chesser wrote in a column headlined "Cowering Christians."


Hat tip to Marilyn Savitt-Kring.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How Evolutionary Biologists Reconstruct History

Robert Cooper, writing a bit back for the American Biology Teacher (2004) makes a few interesting observations regarding how the predictive sciences such as geology and evolutionary biology have been deemphasized in favor of the observable (for lack of a better term) sciences such as physics and chemistry. He cites Rudolph and Stewart (1998), who argue:

The difficulties [19th century] British scientists had reconciling the explanatory success of evolution by natural selection with its apparent methodological shortcomings reveal a great deal about the gap between the nature of science as practiced and the nature of science as perceived.
Cooper notes that this is still the mindset not just of the modern creation movement but of many who practice and teach science, what he calls "widespread myths about the nature of science." (103)

According to Cooper, evolutionary studies fall into two categories, those that analyze the patterns of evolution and those that analyze the processes of evolution. In hominid studies, it could be reasonably argued, process is inferred from pattern. For example, in the studies involving the earliest hominids, we can infer the pattern of speciation based on the fossil remains over time in a particular area. As noted in a post below about the Ardipithecus to Australopithecus transition in the Middle Awash River valley, we have fossil remains that suggest in situ evolution through a range of eight species of hominids. We would then attempt to determine why the speciation occurred and what the factors might have been that triggered it.

Cooper has some recommendations for all science teachers: move beyond the simplistic notion that there is a universal scientific method, and incorporate scientific conclusions based on historical sciences. I have often thought that an analogy to a crime scene investigation is a wonderful way of teaching the historical sciences and have employed it in my teaching. Cooper also mentions this. He concludes with:

The myth that scientists usually perform controlled laboratory experiments to test hypotheses, and that this experiment work is somehow "more scientific" than historical or comparative studies, is simply incorrect. In addition, the belief that it is impossible to know anything about what happened in the past since no one was there to observe is a serious misconception about the nature of science that hinders the acceptance of evolution.

Quite true.

Literature Cited
Cooper, Robert A. 2004. How evolutionary biologists reconstruct history:
patterns and processes. The American Biology Teacher 66(2): 101-108)

Rudolph, J.L. and Stewart, J. 1998. Evolution and the nature of science: On
the historical discord and its implications for education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 35: 1069-1089.

A funny cartoon courtesy of Chris Muir

Chris Muir does the Day by Day cartoon, which tackles a range of issues from a mostly right perspective. Today, he tackled evolution. Quite humorous.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Scientific Illiteracy

Liza Gross of the Public Library of Science has written a piece entitled Scientific Literacy an the Partisan Takeover of Biology. Largely a chronicling of the career of Jon D. Miller, Director of the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University Medical School, the article provides some information that Miller has collected:

Over the past 20 years, the proportion of Americans who reject this concept has declined (from 48% to 39%), as has the proportion who accept it (45% to 40%). Confusion, on the other hand, has increased considerably, with those expressing uncertainty increasing from 7% in 1985 to 21% in 2005.

He has also found that:

One-third of Americans think evolution is "“definitely false"”; over half lean one way or another or aren't sure. Only 14% expressed unequivocal support for evolution" a result Miller calls "shocking."”

Perhaps most depressingly:

And in a 2005 survey measuring the proportion of adults who accept evolution in 34 European countries and Japan, the United States ranked 33rd, just above Turkey. No other country has so many people who are absolutely committed to rejecting the concept of evolution, Miller says. "“We are truly out on a limb by ourselves."”

Miller suggests that the current spate of anti-evolutionism is largely Republican-driven (a conclusion that, I think, has some merit but needs more study). What I have found is that scientific illiteracy knows no political bounds. People from all walks of life tend to be remarkably ignorant of scientific knowledge. I have often thought, though, that if the Republican party links itself to pro-ID side, it will be seen as anti-scientific and anti-intellectual and lose voters like myself, who might vote independent or Libertarian. 2008 is going to be interesting.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

No Free Lunch Again

Shortly after William Dembski unleashed No Free Lunch on the world, H. Allen Orr, biology professor at the University of Rochester, wrote an inciteful review of the work. In it, he notes Dembski's principle objection to evolutionary mechanics, that they are incapable of generating specified complexity. No evolutionary outcome would be any better than any other. Only a designer could make an eye or a flagella--Darwinism cannot. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how evolution works. As Orr puts it:

The problem with all this is so simple that I hate to bring it up. But here goes: Darwinism isn't trying to reach a prespecified target. Darwinism, I regret to report, is sheer cold demographics. Darwinism says that my sequence has more kids than your sequence and so my sequence gets common and yours gets rare. If there's another sequence out there that has more kids than mine, it'll displace me. But there's no pre-set target in this game.

He also notes another problem with Dembski's interpretation: the lack of consideration of deep time.

But now change the environment. This shifts the landscape's topography: a sequence's fitness isn't cast in stone but depends on the environment it finds itself in. Each population may now find it's no longer at the best sequence and so can evolve somewhat even if the new landscape is still rugged. Different populations will go to different sequences as they live in different environments. Now repeat this for 3.5 billion years. Will this process yield interesting products? Will we get different looking beasts, living different kinds of lives? My guess is yes. Dembski's is no. And that is, I suppose, fine. He's entitled to his guess. But don't let him tell you that it follows ineluctably from some mathematical theorem because it doesn't.

Orr also notes the logical fallacy in the concept of irreducible complexity:

Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required.

It is a good article, full of answers to questions that very few people want to ask about the logic of the current ID focus. Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ominous News from Canada

The Journal Nature reports that a researcher seeking to address the question of Intelligent Design belief among Canadian citizens has had his granting request denied in part because members of the granting agency are unconvinced of the veracity of evolutionary theory. Hannah Hoag, writing for Nature states about the rejection:

The letter stated that, among its reasons for rejection, the committee felt there was inadequate "justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent design theory, was correct."

To this, the researcher, Brian Alters, commented: "It illustrates how the misunderstanding of evolution and intelligent design can go to all levels of Canadian society." Another researcher, Philip Sadler, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, quipped:

"If he was trying to answer the question as to whether all this popularization had had an impact, he just saved the government $40,000. He found the evidence without doing the study."

Troubling indeed.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A New Find in the Middle Awash

A new set of finds of Australopithecus anamensis in the Middle Awash River region have filled in some gaps in the evolutionary sequence of early hominids. As Foxnews reports, notable is the fact that eight successive species are now represented in the region. Berhane Asfaw, one of the principle excavators, states:

"We just found the chain of evolution, the continuity through time...One form evolved to another. This is evidence of evolution in one place through time."

Palaeoanthropologist Tim White also notes:

"It's like 12 frames of a home movie, but a home movie covering 6 million years."

The corresponding Nature article (White, et al., 2006. Asa Issie, Aramis and the origin of Australopithecus. Nature, 440: 883-889) is a bit more illuminating. The photo that is provided shows maxillary and mandibular remains, associated teeth and a right femoral shaft. The teeth are larger than that of Ardipithecus ramidus but are similar to those of Au. afarensis and Au. anamensis. The authors also write:

In an assessment of fossils from Kanapoi (3.9-4.2 Myr ago), the anagenetic series Ar. ramidus, Au. anamensis and Au. afarensis has been hypothesized. The evidence reported here from the Afar Rift consitutes a strong test from a single stratigraphic succession that fails to falsify this hypothesis. Middle Awash Au. anamensis is anatomically intermediate in many characters between the earlier Ar. ramidus and the later Au. afarensis from the same study area. (White, et al. 2006)

The readers are also treated to an exposition on anagenetic speciation versus punctuated equilibrium and how each can be recognized in the fossil record. This is described by Stephen Jay Gould:

We can distinguish the punctuations of rapid anagenesis from those of branching speciation by invoking the eminently testable criterion of ancestral survival following the origin of a descendant species. If the ancestor survives, then the new species has arisen by branching. If the ancestor does not survive, then we must count the case either as indecisive, or as good evidence for rapid anagenesis--but, in any instance, not as evidence for punctuated equilibrium. (Gould, S.J. 2002. The Structure of Evolutionary theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 795)

White, et al. do not venture a guess as to which the Middle Awash deposits represent. Interestingly, according to the authors, a trigger has not been identified for the origin of the australopithecines. In other words, we have a pretty good idea when it happened. We do not, at present, know why. ID perhaps?