Saturday, June 30, 2007

I subscribe to Acts and Facts, the ICR's monthly magazine. It always contains a piece by John D. Morris, the son of ICR founder, the late Henry Morris. This month's piece is called "What if Evolution Were True?"

Its hard to find more disinformation in any six paragraphs of creationist literature anywhere. I have commented in parentheses. He writes:

What if all life evolved from a common ancestor by means of gradual changes as Darwin suggested? What evidence would we expect to find? Certainly we would expect to find the fossilized remains of the myriads of ancestral creatures which lived and died over the millenia. (We have.) At least some of the intermediate forms would have been fossilized. (they were). Remains of many varieties of present creatures have been found, including some extinct varieties, but the true in-between forms bridging gaps still elude us. (No they don't.)

He continues:

We would also expect to discover a universal trend in science which leads to more complexity in nature, paving the way for an increase in genetic content. Instead we discover the universal second law of science, which invariable points toward a degradation of quality in every duplication of information, such as in reproduction and more randomness in every unguided process.

For the umpteenth time, the earth is not a closed system!!!!! John Derbeyshire is right. WHACK!!!
Steve Paulson of has an interview with Ronald Numbers. In it, he points out something not well known, I don't think:

There's a stereotype that creationists just aren't that smart. I mean, how can you ignore the steady accumulation of scientific evidence for evolution? Is this a question of intelligence or education?

Not fundamentally. There is a slight skewing of anti-evolutionists toward lower levels of education. But it's not huge. One recent poll showed that a quarter of college graduates in America reject evolution. So it's not education itself that's doing this. There are really dumb creationists and there are really dumb evolutionists. Of the 10 founders of the Creation Research Society, five of them earned doctorates in the biological sciences from major universities. Another had a Ph.D. from Berkeley in biochemistry. Another had a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. These were not dumb, uneducated people. They rejected evolution for religious and, they would say, scientific reasons.

If you haven't read Numbers' book, The Creationists, I would highly recommend it. Its disappointing that he has not been able to reconcile his belief with his science.
Taner Edis, who teaches physics at Truman State University, has written a book titled The Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam. I plainly have too much to read.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I just picked up Harun Yahya's 750-page Atlas of Creation. You, too, can get yours here.
Sequencing the Neandertal DNA.
I hear the New York Times has a story on human origins by John Noble Wilford. I won't link it but if you do a search for it, it will probably come up.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Cincinnati Enquirer has an entire section on the creationism museum here. Be sure to catch the second article involving the lawsuit that has been filed against Answers in Genesis by another creationist group. It is nothing short of surreal.
Creationism as a threat to human rights? Oddly, it seems that the focus is not against the Christian fundamentalist movement, however:

"All leading representatives of the main monotheistic religions have adopted a much more moderate attitude," it added, noting that Pope Benedict XVI stated in a recent book that the Catholic Church did not share the creationists' Biblical literalism. The report highlighted a recent Muslim creationist campaign by Turkish writer Harun Yahya, whose lavish 750-page "Atlas of Creation" has been distributed free to schools in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.
The report cited University of Paris biologist Herve Le Guyader, who called the challenge from Islamic thinkers "much more dangerous than the previous creationist initiatives, which were often of Anglo-Saxon origin."

It is still silly to call it a threat to human rights.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tom McNamee of the Chicao Sun Times has an editorial on the Field Museum's stance on evolution. He begins:

Right from the get-go, there on a sign at the entrance to the Evolution exhibit at the Field Museum, real science takes a stand: "Evolution is one of science's best-supported theories." Perfect. A profound truth flatly stated, without a hint of equivocation.

His article is highly critical of the ID creationism position but in it, he has a throw away line that is, perhaps, symptomatic of why the debate is so polarizing.

And then there was that debate on TV a couple of weeks ago among the nine men running for the Republican nomination for president. When the moderator asked them to raise their hands if they ''didn't believe in evolution," three hands went up -- Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

I was stunned. I was mortified.

I turned to my son and shook my head and said: "Jesus. ..."

The use of "Jesus" as a swear word shows contempt for all things Christian and just makes Christians dig in their heels. Anyone who takes their Christian faith seriously and was reading the editorial just got mad and turned the page. Also, as a Christian who supports the theory of evolution, it just makes my job a whole lot harder. If it seems as though I am focusing on something seemingly minute here, consider that the use of the word "Jesus" as a swear word causes the same sort of moral outrage in Christians that the Mohammed cartoons did for your average Muslim. No, we don't react violently because we are told not to, but the insult level is the same.

The Council of Europe has refused to debate a resolution on creationism. William Dembski doesn't like the resolution to begin with.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Robert Pringle and Paul Ehrlich have an editorial in the Sacramento Bee about Senator Sam Brownback's evolution stance. In response to Senator Brownback's assertion that no one has ever witnessed speciation, they have an interesting analogy:

Brownback's argument rests on the fact that no person has ever seen a species produced by a gradual process. Then again, no person has ever seen a giant redwood tree grow from a seed. But one can find redwood trees of all sizes and observe their incremental growth within years.

Good point.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Inherit the Wind is playing on Broadway with Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy. Now that would be a good show!!
Most of the time, I am a card-carrying Republican (although that is probably more because I disagree with just about all of the positions in the DNC platform than that I am happy with the current Republican leadership, which I am not). Sometimes I just plain break with the party, though.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Well, this sort of turns the forest fringe argument on its head. Bipedalism may not have been as unique as it is thought. From the Knoxville News Sentinel article:

Starting about 24 million years ago, the rain forests in East and Central Africa dwindled and became patchy. Apes that had spent almost their entire lives in the forest canopy had to walk from tree to tree.

Early human ancestors probably spent more time feeding on the forest floor, the researchers say. Compared to balancing on a springy branch, walking on the ground would have been easy.

The ancestors of chimps and gorillas, on the other hand, became more specialized at going up and down trees — holding on with both their hands and feet. They kept that same posture on the ground, which is why they often knuckle-walk, supporting their weight with their hands as well as their feet.

It has been long thought that humans evolved because they alone could exploit the forest fringe environment while the monkeys took over the savannah and the higher apes took over the forest.
Got the quiz to work. It is nothing short of astounding and is on a third grade level.
Great. When I go to get the ecards, it tells me i have an invalid email address.
ChristiaNet has a page of "Free Evolution Tracts." FORE!!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Here is a somewhat more in-depth article courtesy of the AP. Since it is from the AP, though, you never know how much to believe.
A huge flightless bird/dinosaur fossil has been unearthed in China. From the USA Today story by Calum MacLeod:

BEIJING — The dinosaur world's latest star had a toothless beak, waved feathered arms incapable of flight and may have hunted only plants. But if you met Gigantoraptor erlianensis in a Mongolian forest 70 million years ago, best to have given it a wide berth. At more than 16 feet tall and roughly 3,000 pounds, the beast could stand eyeball-to-eyeball with a tyrannosaur, Chinese researchers say.

According to the paper in Nature, this find remarkably resembles other finds where feathers are present, hence the designation. It is awfully big to have feathers, though.

Friday, June 15, 2007

There doesn't seem to be much going on in the news today but I will post something if it does turn up. In the meantime, perusal of just about any newspaper will turn up a letter about either the creation museum or a related topic.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Chicago Field museum has a traveling exhibit on Charles Darwin and his support for the theory of evolution. According to a story in the Chicago Tribune:

Using the naturalist's personal effects, hundreds of specimens, historical photographs, notebooks, manuscripts, living animals and film, the exhibit vividly explains evolutionary theory and re-creates the upper crust world of Victorian science in which Darwin, the son of a wealthy physician and financier, was reared.

The story gives a nice little run down of Darwin's life.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Buried behind the subscription wall at Natural History is an article by Richard Milner about the number of books that the Dover trial hath wrought. Here is the bibliography of the books (and movie) that he reviews:

Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement edited by John Brockman Vintage, $14.00

40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin[R], and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania by Matthew Chapman HarperCollins, $25.95

Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross Oxford University Press, $19.95

Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul by Edward Humes, HarperCollins, $25.95

Flock of Dodos: The Evolution--Intelligent Design Circus (comedic-documentary film: 85 minutes) Written and directed by Randy Olson Prairie Starfish Productions, home video to be distributed by New Video,August 28, 2007, $26.95

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools Edited by Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch Beacon Press, $14.00

Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design By MichaelShermer Times Books, $22.00

The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and a School Board in Dover, PA by Gordy Slack Jossey-Bass, $24.
Natural history has a story on "Faces of the Human Past, written by Richard Milner and Ian Tattersall. It is a good summation of the highlights of palaeoanthropological discovery and attempts to determine what our predecessors looked like.
I just realized that my photograph is missing. It was stored on the server of my old job at UT. I will have to fix that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Lucy comes to Houston!
"Evolution and Dissent" at the Boston Globe.
Another take on why scientists don't debate creationists from the Buffalo News. It is interesting to read this article in light of the Gallup Poll data.
Gallup has a poll on evolution and creation here. The opening paragraph sets the tone of the article:

PRINCETON, NJ -- The majority of Republicans in the United States do not believe the theory of evolution is true and do not believe that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. This suggests that when three Republican presidential candidates at a May debate stated they did not believe in evolution, they were generally in sync with the bulk of the rank-and-file Republicans whose nomination they are seeking to obtain.

The poll is heavily oriented toward the idea that humans did or did not evolve--presumably to spark a more visceral response from those questioned. This is, in fact, admitted later in the article. After all, evolution is okay as long as it happens over there. The other paragraph that struck me was this one, in which the stellar record of science education in this country is put on spectacular display:

It might seem contradictory to believe that humans were created in their present form at one time within the past 10,000 years and at the same time believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. But, based on an analysis of the two side-by-side questions asked this month about evolution and creationism, it appears that a substantial number of Americans hold these conflicting views.

ya boy!

Monday, June 11, 2007

George Gilder's Take on Evolution

Realising somewhat after the fact that the George Gilder article is a year old and still not quite sure why my "up to the minute" search strategy retrieved it, it did provide an interesting, if somewhat disappointing read.

He makes a number of peculiar errors that, had he actually been familiar with either the literature of evolution or the workings of the biological world, he likely would not have made. For example, he states that evolution (what he calls "Darwinism," which ought to be a red flag right there) is "...tautological. What survives is fit; what is fit survives." This is too simplistic a criticism to be useful. It is like saying "he burns easily because he has red hair; he has red hair, so he burns easily." It is only tautological on the surface. It doesn't change the fact that people with red hair burn easily. He continues:

As an all-purpose tool of reductionism that said that whatever survives is, in some way, normative, Darwinism could inspire almost any modern movement, from the eugenic furies of Nazism to the feminist crusades of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood.

One wonders why he did not include Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood under the umbrella of eugenics, which it certainly was/is. Indeed, "Darwinism" could, and perhaps did inspire these movements. That does not make it bad science.

His arguments against the science of evolution take the form of those of William Dembski, the mathematician that is attached to the Discovery Institute:

I came to see that the computer offers an insuperable obstacle to Darwinian materialism. In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is manifestly independent of its material substrate. No possible knowledge of the computer's materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual content of its computations.

He then notes about DNA:

But even here, the deoxyribonucleic acid that bears the word is not itself the word. Like a sheet of paper or a computer memory chip, DNA bears messages but is chemistry is irrelevant to its content.

This is patently silly. He is arguing that the computer can be used to convey content of any conceivable kind and it is irrespective of the content itself. The problem is that the computer hardware is more than one level removed from the content. I have used the hardware to open a web page so I can type this post. There is no biological analogue to this. The closest thing might be the world/universe in which organisms (programs) reside. At the content level, however (the web page) every single word that I have written on this page results in a message. Indeed, if you reorder the words or sentences or even letters, the message is very different. At times, if I have mistakenly ordered a word ('osme' instead of 'some'), the resulting meaning is gibberish (can you say 'mutation?'). This is a mathematical, not biological understanding of reality. The world as a whole, does not care a whit whether a particular organism does or does not survive. It simply exerts the influence on that organism that either helps or hinders its survival. At the informational level, this is an elementary biological concept: the difference between genotype and phenotype. Genotype is the genetic underpinning of the organism, phenotype is how it is expressed in the organism (what it looks like). The organism, if it survives, then reproduces, imparting its genotype to its offspring, which will partly code for how the offspring will look, warts and all.

Over an over, he retreats to mathematical models to state that 64 codons cannot result from 20 amino acids, despite clear evidence that that is exactly what happens in the biological world. He states:

DNA can inform the creation of a brain, but a brain as an aggregation of proteins cannot generate the information in DNA. Wherever there is information, there is a preceding intelligence.

This is something along the lines of Romans 9:

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "

The catch is that Gilder is using an either-or argument when there is no a priori reason for doing so. DNA is perfectly capable of coding for the formation of a brain. It does so with ease. Whether or not there is a guiding intelligence behind this coding is a theological question, not a biological one. In this sense, like the arguments of William Dembski, the use of mathematics is just a smokescreen to sidestep proximate causation versus ultimate causation and is poor model for the biological world. it was a year ago that George Gilder wrote the article. I picked up the article and will see what Gilder was up to.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Here's my own poll.
Would you vote for a presidential candidate who subscribes to the Young Earth Creation model?
No free polls
USA Today has a poll on evolution in today's online and print versions. Here are the actual results. Interestingly, the poll questions were phrased in an 'either-or' way--either old-earth evolutionism or recent earth creationism. There was not a question asking whether people believed in God and found evolution a good theory. That would have been interesting. The STRIKING result is that when asked if presidential candidates' views on evolution or creationism mattered in how they would, the vast majority of those polled said 'no.' Further, most of those polled answered that whether or not a candidate believed in creationism likely had no bearing on how good a president they would be. I would encourage you to look at all of the poll results.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

24 new animal species have been found in Suriname. That's neat.

John Derbyshire and Evolution

The new issue of National Review has an article entitled "Evolution and Me," by George Gilder. I haven't picked up a copy of it yet. John Derbyshire comments on it here in what can only be termed an excellent, smack-on-the-money essay. He is not complementary of Gilder's reasoning. He also very succintly points out one of the principle problems in the debate:

It’s a wearying business, arguing with Creationists. Basically, it is a game of Whack-a-Mole. They make an argument, you whack it down. They make a second, you whack it down. They make a third, you whack it down. So they make the first argument again. This is why most biologists just can’t be bothered with Creationism at all, even for the fun of it. It isn’t actually any fun. Creationists just chase you round in circles. It’s boring.

He also notes the elephant in the living room:

George’s own Discovery Institute was established in 1990; the offshoot Center for Science and Culture (at first called the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture) in 1992. That is an aggregate 30 years. Where is the science? In all those years, not a single paper of scientific standing has come out of (nor even, to the best of my knowledge, been submitted by) the DI or the CSC. I am certainly willing to be corrected here. If the DI or CSC have any papers of scientific standing — published or not — I shall post links to them to NRO for qualified readers to scrutinize.

Please, please, please read the whole thing.
The Chesterfield, Virginia School Board is endorsing ID.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Michael Behe has written a new book, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. Michael Ruse thinks it is the same old stuff. His review can be found in the most recent issue of Science. Since it is behind a subscription wall, I can only quote a small amount. He says:

I am afraid, though, that The Edge of Evolution is a bit of a sad sack. Nothing very much new, old arguments repeated, opposition ignored or dismissed without argument. What does surprise me is how emphatic Behe now is in putting a distance between himself and the older Creationists. For a start, he stresses his commitment to evolution. He thinks the world of life is as old as is claimed by any more conventional biologist. He also wants to give natural processes of change a role in life's history. For instance, the genetic mechanisms that led to the production of anti-freeze in fish that live in Arctic conditions are explicitly acknowledged to be those of random mutation sifted through the processes of natural selection, the survival of the fittest.

Not sure if I will pick it up or not.
...and the Irish Independent comments on the new museum.
The Guardian has an uncharacteristically level-headed piece on ID and creationism. A good read.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Peter Hitchens Speaks Out

Kind of off-topic but interesting nonetheless, Peter Hitchens has an editorial in the Daily Mail that is a reflection of the contrast of his brother Christopher's atheistic beliefs and his own, that of Christianity. A short quote:

Did the Supper at Emmaus really take place? How I hope that it did, but I do not know that it did, in the way that I know a British soldier has recently been flown home dead from Basra or Helmand, or even in the way that I know that another such soldier will soon make the same sad journey.

Many decades have passed since I fancied the story of Adam and Eve was literal truth, if I ever did. Rather more recently I have realised the great warning against human arrogance that is contained in it, the serpent’s silky promise that if we reject the supposedly foolish, trivial restrictions imposed on us by an interfering, jealous nuisance of a God, then we shall be liberated.

As the serpent promises: "Ye shall be as gods." These may be the most important words in the whole Bible.

Take the enticing satanic advice, and you arrive, quite quickly, at revolutionary terror, at the invention of the atom bomb, at the torture chamber and the building of concentration camps for those unteachable morons who do not share your vision of a just world.

I read Christopher Hitchens quite regularly. Ordinarily, he is a clear and concise thinker. Read the whole thing.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education has a web site. Check it out.