Friday, September 28, 2007

Richard Dawkins has apparently gotten snookered into appearing in a pro-ID film. The film, fronted by Ben Stein, actor (Bueller, Bueller...) and game show host (Win Ben Stein's Money), is called Expelled, and chronicles the academic mistreatment of professors who side with ID. Dawkins and others claim that they were only told that the film would be about the the confluence of science and religion. The film was originally to be called Crossroads. According to the article:

Stein denied in the New York Times that he had misled anyone. "I don't remember a single person asking me what the movie was about," he said. The film company said the movie's title was changed on the advice of marketing experts.

There is also a New York Times article on the controversy. You can go there to find it if you really want to.
Republican candidate for governor in the state of Louisiana Bobby Jindal, who many conservatives have pinned their hopes on in the region, has put his apples in the ID cart. No way to know how this will play out.
Mysterious hominids in southwest Florida. At least David Shealy thinks so.
Mark Graham, of Grove College in Pennsylvania says that there was another side of Charles Darwin:

More than a century after his death, people are still trying to understand Charles Darwin. And a new report says those who label him anti-religion are wrong. The 19th Century English biologist famous for his theory of evolution supported Christian missionary work his entire adult life, reports a cultural historian.

The USAToday article is not particularly long but interesting.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Off Topic

The family and I just got back from vacation to Virginia Beach and Washington D.C. where the kids whethered the heat and the walking around the mall quite well. I also got a chance to see these guys, perhaps one last time. A fantastic concert--Genesis played for two and half hours straight without an intermission. I hope I do that well at age 55.
Senator David Vitter (R) of Louisiana has earmarked 100 thousand dollars for a group called the Louisiana Family Forum that is working to remove evolution from the classroom. What is probably sad about this is that the LFF is likely doing other very good things. This stigma will hang around their collective necks like an anchor. I wouldn't look for Vitter to get reelected, either.
Not sure if this is really news since we pretty much already knew this: "Human Ancestors More Primitive than Once Thought." The article focuses on the Dmanisi remains dated to 1.8 million years ago that appear to be transitional between Homo habilis and Homo erectus/rudolfensis.
The British government has issued guidelines to teachers about how to teach evolution and deal with creationism. Apparently, it was in response to a push by local creationists to channel elementary education:

The Teachernet press release and a corresponding document entitled "Guidance on the place of creationism and intelligent design in science lessons" (dated 18 September 2007) came about after a propaganda exercise in late 2006 on the part of a newly formed creationist organization calling itself Truth in Science.

Packets of creationist-backed teaching materials were sent to the science heads of every secondary school in the United Kingdom. Following complaints, the government issued a series of statements and disclaimers, including a 21 June 2007 statement affirming that creationism (including "intelligent design") "should not be taught as science" and promising guidance for schools "in due course."

Hat tip to the ASA.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Council of Europe has backed the teaching of evolution in European schools. Here is the resolution, phrased in typically EU, secular fashion. Here is the paragraph regarding the Catholic Church:

76. In the tradition of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI now welcomes the role of the sciences in the evolution of humanity: Science has opened up large dimensions of reason that have been closed up to now and thus brought us new insights. In early September 2006, he brought together a group of former students and colleagues at Castel Gandolfo for a seminar on the evolutionism versus creationism debate. He published the conclusions of this seminar in mid-April 2007 in German under the title “Schöpfung und Evolution” (Creation and Evolution). He does not support the ideas of creationism: the creationist position is based on an interpretation of the Bible that the Catholic Church does not share. The Pope rejects both a creationism that categorically excludes science and the theory of evolution, which hides its own weaknesses and does not want to see the questions that arise beyond the methodological capacities of science. The theory of evolution is considered too pervasive by the Catholic Church, which seems above all to be worried about the influence of “social Darwinism” and the evolutionist theories concerning economic matters and medical ethics.

The draft is quite long and an interesting read. Pastafarianism is even mentioned. Paragraph 87, however, is the one that cuts to the heart of why evolutionary theory ought to be considered on its own merits:

87. Some creationist fundamentalists attack “Darwinism” and materialism by accusing them of being the “real ideological source of terrorism”. “Darwinism is the basis of several violent ideologies that brought disaster to the human race in the 20th century”. Is it necessary to point out that human beings did not await the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s work The Origin of Species to indulge in a large number of massacres? How many people have died in the name of religious wars? The use of religion, like the reference to “social Darwinism” by some dictatorial regimes, is insufficient and cannot in any way call into question the theory of evolution or religion. Social Darwinism is an ideology that claims to have been inspired by Darwin but it has nothing to do with the Darwinian theory of evolution.

Correctly stated.
More information about Homo floresiensis. This is a press release from the Smithsonian (by way of Physorg). Here is the kicker paragraph:

The team turned its research focus to the most complete of the 12 skeletons discovered and specifically toward three little bones from the hobbit's left wrist. The research asserts that modern humans and our closest fossil relatives, the Neandertals, have a very differently shaped wrist in comparison to living great apes, older fossil hominins like Australopithecus (e.g., "Lucy") and even the earliest members of the genus Homo (e.g., Homo habilis, the "handy-man"). But the hobbit's wrist is basically indistinguishable from an African ape or early hominin-like wrist—nothing at all like that seen in modern humans and Neandertals.

This is an HTML link to the Science article, which is, apparently, free to all. I wonder what John Hawks will say--he has always regarded the specimens as pathological.

Friday, September 21, 2007

According to a hand-wrist expert, Homo floresiensis is a bonafide species. States Foxnews:

In the new work, [Matthew] Tocheri and his colleagues analyzed three wrist bones from the hobbit skeleton, technically called Liang Bua 1 or LB1.

The shape and orientation of the bones matched those of non-human apes and were very different from the wrist bones of Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and modern humans.

For example, the human trapezoid is boot-shaped, while the same wrist bone in LB1 is wedge-shaped.

"Are they a distinct species or are they pathological modern humans?" asks study leader Tocheri. "I think it's pretty clear that this is a smoking gun, that they are not pathological modern humans. Modern human wrists, normal or abnormal, don't look like an otherwise normal chimpanzee wrist."

I am pretty sure this is not the end of it.

Now playing: Peter Gabriel - Of These, Hope
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Kansas evolution debate as chronicled by Jeff Tamblyn.

Although the religious side was in full force during the hearings, the Kansas Citizens for Science decided to stage a boycott. Their reasoning was that science is not something that can be determined in the courtroom.

"The average viewer may see the movie as filled with heroes and villains. But my viewpoint is it's filled with human beings," says Tamblyn, a 27-year veteran of corporate film and video production.

Here's an interesting tidbit:

He says, "There are 10 major characters in the film, and they've all been invited to the screening. So far none of the people on the creationist side are coming."

Wonder why?

"Fantastic World"

Lew Moores writes in the Cincinnati City Beat:

The Museum is dedicated to the belief that the Earth is but 6,000 years old, that a science that suggests life on this planet is millions of years old is wrong, that the first man looked like a hippie, the first woman looked like Grace Slick.

Now that's funny.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

This is cool. Reptile tracks that are 290 million years old. It will necessitate a rewrite:

"We know from the trackways that these animals had their feet planted almost under their body," Berman said, "whereas in textbooks, they give them a sprawling gait as if the limbs are extended out from the body considerably. This just isn't true. You look at the trackway and you see that the footprints are very close to the midline of the body."

Science in action.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sort of related but not really. I am not sure what is more amazing: the lawsuit or that people elected this man. Interesting: Foxnews wasted no time in calling to attention the fact that the congressman is a democrat. Usually you have to read three stories on a particular event to figure that out.
It seems the Discovery Institute has a new book out called Explore Evolution. Here is the link for it. The publisher is Hill House. There seems to be a reluctance to say who the authors are. The flyer simply states:

Co-authored by two state university biology professors, two philosophers of science, and a science curriculum writer, Explore Evolution was peer-reviewed by biology faculty at both state and private universities, teachers with experience in both AP and pre-AP life science courses, and doctoral scientists working for industry and government. The textbook has been pilot-tested in classes at both the secondary school and college levels.

Where has it been pilot-tested? Not in any school district around here. Here is the book website.
Going to be on vacation for the next week in Virginia Beach so blogging will be light to non-existent. I will pick it up again on the 25th.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Off-topic day

I just finished reading one of those "disnified" books of Winnie-the-Pooh. I was immediately struck by how vastly inferior it is to the original stories and how dumbed-down it is. All of the personality traits of the original characters are gone. That seems to characterize all of the Disney Winnie-the-Pooh books. How sad.

Friday, September 14, 2007

This seems more a legal question than a science question.

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the Roseville Joint Union High School District that was filed by a Granite Bay man unhappy with how evolution was being taught in his children's school.

Apparently, the man had met with school board officials several times and, when he did not get the answer that he wanted, sued them. The judge saw through the smokescreen and dismissed the suit. Said school board member Jan Pinney:

"He had more time before the board than anybody has ever had in my 12 years on the board."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New research suggests that early hominids did not have a fully developed achilles tendon and, therefore, couldn't run fast. isn't convinced.
It seems that climate change is not to blame for the disappearance of the Neandertals.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In a paper dating back a few days, John Derbyshire remarks on Tom Bethell's paper about the AEI conference on Darwinism. Derbyshire recalls the exchange as follows:

If a graduate student came to you and said: 'You know, I've got this great idea for a possible evolutionary pathway for the bacterial flagellum. I think I could figure it out and I've got an idea for some experiments that would test this. Would you recommend me to go along with that?' And Michael said no. Which left me stunned. This is obscurantist.

Bethell responded thusly:

I sent Behe an e-mail. Could he verify this account? No, he could not. "John Derbyshire is imagining things," he wrote back. "I would never have said such a thing. I welcome experiments into evolutionary pathways. It has been my experience that the more we know, and the more experimental work is done, the less and less plausible Darwinian mechanisms become."

Chapman, also present, recalls no such exchange with Behe.

Derbyshire then responded:

So far as my exchange with Michael Behe is concerned, I reported it as I recall it. I distinctly recall his answering "No" to my question, as the answer startled me. I had not expected him to be so blunt. It is possible, I suppose, that he mis-apprehended my question -- there was some crosstalk going on at the time. I know what I asked, though, and I know what he answered. If anything got lost there, I don't feel at fault, though I should be sorry to think that anyone -- even a creationist -- believed himself traduced by something I said in good faith. I should be especially sorry in the case of Professor Behe, who strikes me as the least shifty of a very shifty bunch. At least he had the guts to show up and give evidence at Kitzmiller.

Mr. Bethell responds (in the same article):

Mr. Derbyshire's bitter hostility to intelligent design is so great that he is unable to think straight on the subject. Now he tells us that Michael Behe may have "misapprehended" his question. It is certain that he did, for no intelligent-design theorist is opposed to any scientific research. That research is all tending to support, not weaken the claims of intelligent design. It is convenient for JD to think otherwise, for he is determined to represent intelligent design as another name for "creationism." He has fixed that idea firmly in his head, because he believes that it is the best way to discredit intelligent design.

Here's the problem: where is the research? One paper doesn't do it. I have the paper. Time to see what it says.
Hmm. Yahoo already took down the article about Baylor professor Robert Marks and his struggle against academic suppression. Maybe that is the time length for Yahoo articles, but it seems awfully short.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My oldest daughter and I have been battling walking pneumonia, so the posts have been light. Sorry. On the other hand, this is what I saw from my back yard a few mornings ago.

I just love digital SLRs. That was handheld at 1/80 of a second.
Okay, so its only partly relevant, but still funny.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The National Post of Canada thinks the criticism of John Tory is unfair and misleading. They note:

But there should be nothing controversial about the Conservative leader's position -- especially given that Mr. Tory says his comment referred only to religious studies, not science class. Indeed, creationist material is already included in the religious studies courses taught at publicly funded Catholic schools across Ontario. Any number of creation stories also are taught at the province's various independent Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and (insert your favourite faith here) religious schools. When it suits them, our political and media elites laud these schools and their curricula as hallmarks of our multicultural society. (The same goes for aboriginal creation myths, which many Canadian students learn about in their history courses.) Has political correctness advanced to the point whereby every story of creation is politically acceptable except the one that happens to originate with the country's Christian majority?

This tracks with what David Warren wrote in his caustic review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion about the opponents of Christianity stepping up their rhetoric.
A new book is out by Donald Prothero entitled Evolution: What the Fossil Record Says and Why it Matters. It is an effort to answer the criticisms that the fossil record is spotty and does not support evolution. I think I will order mine today.
"Baylor University Denies Research Scientists' Academic Freedom." This is, sadly, a problem that occurs routinely in academic circles, especially where faculty and administration lean left, which is just about everywhere.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Another not-so-positive review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. The author, David Warren, does note something somewhat chilling, though:

In my recent musings on Darwinism, I have been perhaps a bit coy about why I have been raising it at all. This is because it is "in the air," thanks partly to books by Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others. But those books are themselves symptomatic of the intellectual moment in the West, when opponents of Christianity are moving beyond smug disapproval toward active persecution.

No one in the media quite seems to see that.
Lucy is getting people talking in Houston. According to the Houston Chronicle's Lisa Falkenberg:

The first public crowds to observe Lucy's 3.2 million-year-old bones on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science responded with a wide range of human emotion: eye-rolling doubts, probing questions, witty jokes, tears of awe, and deep, philosophical dialogue weighing the spiritual, the scientific and what it means to be human.

For some, the lightbulb comes on, if dimly.

Still, [a visitor] said it was important to her to see the exhibit and expose her son to the idea of evolution for the first time: "All kids should know the evolution side and the religious side, because there's something to it or we wouldn't be finding millions and millions of years-old stuff."

Yes, there is something to it.
John Tory has since clarified that teaching creationism would only happen in religion class. TheStar notes:

The clarification from the party office stated that the "Ontario curriculum does not allow for creationism (or any other religious theory) to be taught in science classes in Ontario's public schools," and that Tory "clearly stated that any school to be included in the proposal (for funding) must teach the Ontario curriculum."

Interesting politics north of the border.
John Tory, running for election in Canada, has proposed teaching creationism in faith-based schools and using public funds to support such schools.
Sorry about the light posting. Teaching four classes, working full time and having a child with incipient walking pneumonia have taken their toll.