Friday, February 29, 2008

Meanwhile Over in Texas...

The Dallas Morning reports that there is a peculiar aspect of the School Board race going on in District 11 between Barney Maddox and Pat Hardy:

If Dr. Maddox, a Cleburne urologist, succeeds in unseating Ms. Hardy, a Weatherford educator, the whole political balance of the state board could shift. And that's when God shows up in the science books. Dr. Maddox is on record as referring to the theory of evolution as "a myth" and "a fairy tale."

That will come as news to the vast majority of scientists, who tend to use words like "foundational principle" and "overwhelming evidence" when discussing evolution. Nevertheless, seven members of the 15-member State Board of Education have sought to muddy the water by introducing creationism into science classrooms in Texas. A victory by Dr. Maddox would give them a majority.

It seems that Mr. Maddox' general education may be no better than his education in evolution:

"...The campaign flier says: "Barney Maddox believes social studies textbooks should devote more space to American presidents than Marilyn Monroe and that the vicious attack of 9-11 should be portrayed as an aggressive act by terrorists, not an American conspiracy."

Ms. Hardy said she's floored by something so preposterous. She said she doesn't know of a single textbook giving Marilyn Monroe more play than the presidents or even hinting that the 9-11 attacks were an American conspiracy.

Give the newspaper kudos for pointing out that Ms. Hardy is a "rock-solid Republican and dyed-in-the-wool Southern Baptist who firmly believes God is behind all of creation." We need more people like her and fewer like Mr. Maddox.

The Florida Debate as an Example of the "Wedge Strategy"

Tony Plakas of the SunSentinel argues that the debate over the science standards in Florida is a perfect example of how the Discovery Institute has used the Wedge Strategy to gain access to the public schools. He writes:

Ironically, members of the public who fought to keep the standards as presented, without the wedge, met a disciplined opposition who employed a scientific method. In fact, as noted by one speaker, it was proponents of evolution, so moved to message against the motivations of their detractors, who instigated a deity debate. In a masterful display of political prowess, evolution opposition gained ground promoting only academic freedom, cognitive inquiry, the scientific process, and of all things, choice!

You gotta hand it to 'em. They played the game well.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Toumai is 7 Million Years Old

The Toumai fossil, otherwise known as Sahelanthropus tchadensis, has been verified as being between 6.8 and 7.2 million years old. The other argument that is raging is whether or not Toumai really is a hominid. The story notes:

"The radiochronological data concerning Sahelanthropus tchadensis ... is an important cornerstone both for establishing the earliest stages of hominid evolution and for new calibrations of the molecular clock," [Michel] Brunet wrote in a study which will appear in the March 4 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If Toumai really is that old, it pushes the split date for humans and chimpanzees back to at least 8 mya and implies that it happened pretty fast, in evolutionary terms.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

AIG asks "Are We Anti-Science?"

The website Answers in Genesis asks the question "Are we anti-science?" Peter Galling, of AIG, writes:

Much of the problem stems from the different starting points of biblical creationists and Darwinists. Everyone, scientist or not, must start their quests for knowledge with some unprovable axiom—some a priori belief on which they sort through experience and deduce other truths. This starting point, whatever it is, can only be accepted by faith; eventually, in each belief system, there must be some unprovable, presupposed foundation for reasoning (since an infinite regression is impossible).

Uh, wait just a minute. I was fine until he said that the starting point can only be accepted by faith. I do not have faith in the universe around me. I observe the universe around me. Scientists observe the universe around them and formulate hypotheses and theories explaining how that universe works. Such a position does not require faith in anything. It simply requires the understanding that the processes that go on around us operated in the past the same way they operate now. If they did not operate that way, evidence would have been left to that effect. Lets go on.

On the other hand, examine the origins science of Charles Darwin (and others like him). Darwin made observations, yes; he then borrowed the already-existing idea of natural selection and mixed it with a view he assumed was true (based on his rejection of the Bible): uniformitarianism. Thus, by combining observations, scientific ideas, and anti-God philosophy, Darwin published a speculation on how all of life could have descended from a common ancestor.

Darwin's use of uniformitarianism was not in response to rejecting the Bible (which he did not do). Furthermore, his understanding of deep time as well as uniformitarianism is what led him to establish his idea of natural selection. Additionally, how did uniformitarianism become anti-God? Mr. Galling does not say. To label a theoretical perspective of science anti-God is deeply troubling.

Thus, Answers in Genesis argues that evolutionary ideas are origins science, not operational science; evolution is, itself, a religious worldview, just as creation is part of a religious worldview, which affects how scientists do origins science. It is impossible to escape the presuppositions that give rise to one’s theory on origins. Those who portray evolutionism as solid science (contrasting it with [construed as blind] “faith” in creationism) ignore the fact that scientific data must be interpreted through a worldview.

How did origins science, which is based on predictions about what will be found in the historical record become a religious worldview??? By this definition, much of geology, astrophysics, astronomy, archaeology and palaeontology operates in a religious worldview. In fact, by this definition, crime scene investigation is a religious worldview, because it assumes that the gun used to kill the victim operated the same in the past as it does now.

This article betrays a serious misunderstanding of science. To the question "Are we anti-science," the answer must be "No." You can't be anti-science when you don't understand science in the first place.

"Expelled" Being Agressively Marketed

Variety has an article on the marketing of the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed detailing the efforts of all involved:

Producers of the $3.5 million film, which has been enthusiastically backed by anti-evolution think tank the Discovery Institute, have harnessed some big guns to get the film's message out. They've hired Motive Entertainment, the marketing brains behind "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe," to spread the intelligent design gospel and tapped powerhouse PR firm Rogers & Cowan to handle the film's media campaign.

I will try to see the film, if nothing else, to see if the criticisms of the implied Darwinism=Nazism link are warranted.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Serious Global Warming

A report on Foxnews states that the end of the earth has been predicted:

The sun will slowly expand into a red giant, pushing the Earth farther out into space, but not far enough. Our home planet will be snagged by the sun's outer atmosphere, gradually plunging to its doom inside the fiery stellar furnace.

"The drag caused by this low-density gas is enough to cause the Earth to drift inwards, and finally to be captured and vaporized by the sun," explains astronomer Robert Smith of the University of Sussex in southern England.

It turns out that we only have around a billion years of life left, which is sobering when you think that life on the earth has been around for 3.6 billion years. That fact alone seems to have built in a bit of immediacy to the whole picture. In fact, the process might be slowed down:

[Smith] cites a recent study emanating from the University of California, Santa Cruz. It proposes taming an asteroid to swing by the Earth every few thousand years, slowly nudging the Earth into higher solar orbit, enough to outpace the sun's own outward growth.

Or we could just get on the stick and figure out a way of getting out there. Colonizing Mars clearly won't work in the long run.

Now playing: George Winston - Corrina, Corrina
via FoxyTunes

Monday, February 25, 2008

Redesigning "Design"

Kenneth Miller, speaking in front of the AAAS, argues that there is design in nature, just not the way ID folks would have you believe. The story notes:

He points out that structural and molecular biologists routinely speak of the design of proteins, signaling pathways, and cellular structures. He also notes that the human body bears the hallmarks of design, from the ball sockets that allows hips and shoulders to rotate to the “s” curve of the spine that allows for upright walking. “There is, indeed, a design to life – an evolutionary design,” Miller said. “The structures in our bodies have changed over time, as have its functions. Scientists should embrace this concept of ‘design,’ and in so doing, claim for science the sense of orderly rationality in nature to which the anti-evolution movement has long appealed.”

My guess is that he is going to get slings and arrows for this position but he argues this in Finding Darwin's God and is somewhat convincing. One cannot shake the lingering thought, however, that he is letting ID in the back door.

Now playing: Return To Forever - The Romantic Warrior

Friday, February 22, 2008

I have just signed up for AdSense. If this becomes bothersome, I will remove it but I am more than a bit curious to see what they link with my blog.

Michael Behe Ruminates on Charles Darwin's Birthday

The Morning Call has a piece profiling Lehigh biochemist Michael Behe's reaction to Charles Darwin's birthday and Darwin Day at Lehigh. Behe is famously known for his book Darwin's Black Box and for his testimony at the Dover trial in 2005. He is critical of evolutionary theory. As the story notes:

That puts him at odds with the rest of Lehigh's biochemistry department, which states on its Web site that Behe's views have ''no basis in science,'' while Darwin's theory of evolution is backed up by ''findings accumulated over 140 years.''

With regard to the theory's longevity, Behe had, perhaps, the best comeback of the day:

''This party is like a group of scientists [around 1905] having a birthday party for Newton because they want people to think that they're not associated with this new guy Einstein."

I don't think he is correct, but is still a nifty one-liner.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Exalting Stupidity

Susan Jacoby, writing for the International Herald Tribune, addresses why Americans have an almost inherent dislike for intellectualism. Although there has always been a distrust of academics, the article notes:

But now, Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that "too much learning can be a dangerous thing") and anti-rationalism ("the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion") have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don't think it matters.

She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don't think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.

As she notes, this cuts across ideological, political and religious lines and is certainly a factor in the whole creation/evolution mess. Not good.

The Florida Fight Rages On.

Tampa Bay Online is reporting that both sides of the evolution debate are gearing up for war. Supporters of the evolution standards are annoyed that "scientific theory of" was added to the standards and opponents are annoyed that the "Academic Freedom" revision was not included. It used this language:

"Evolution is a fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence and teachers should be permitted to engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence."

This does not strike me as being a problem, since if students really did engage in such analysis, they would find out how rock-solid the theory is. But among all of the sabre-rattling comes this ray of sunshine:

Although many opponents insisted otherwise, the Rev. Brant Copeland, a Presbyterian pastor from Tallahassee, suggested that the debate remains one between science and religious interpretation.

Copeland urged the board to adopt the standard as written by the experts.

"Children should learn science in science class, not religion in science class," Copeland said. "As a Christian, I am not threatened by what science can tell us about God's marvelous and ever-changing creation."

Stay tuned.

Journalists and Science

Scholars & Rogues takes on the journalism world and finds it wanting. They relate the following from Reuters:

The Reuters headline writer says “Florida will teach evolution, but only as a theory” (emphasis mine). Clearly, the headline writer also has no idea what a theory is. Michael Peltier, the writer, has this to say:

The panel includes the word “evolution” in state science standards for the first time, but it is relegated to a place among a host of ideas, including Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. By contrast Isaac Newton’s law of gravity is taught as undisputed fact.

“Relegated” to a place including the Theory of Relativity???!!! That’s like a musician’s being relegated to Carnegie Hall, or an actor’s relegation to the Royal Shakespeare Company! I can only hope I’m so relegated one day. As for “Newton’s law of gravity” being taught as “undisputed fact,” I would say that is true only in bad classrooms. Science has no undisputed facts. There are simply things that are so probable that they are treated as facts, and if they are undisputed at this time, then it is because no one has produced credible evidence to reduce their probabilities.

When are publishers and/or editors going to insist that their writers have at least rudimentary knowledge of science? Math? Anything at all?

It is not surprising to find that journalists have the same understanding of science as the the general public. I teach this in my Anthropology 110 course and, despite (presumably) reading the textbook, students still miss the question on what a theory is.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"An Evolutionary Dead End"

Florida Today columnist John Glisch writes a somewhat dour editorial on the potential impact of the Board of Education vote. The column came out pre-vote but still should be read. He writes:

You don't need a Ph.D. to see excellence in science education is a must and phony attempts to get religion in the science class door would be crippling. That's especially true in Florida, which in 2005 earned an "F" for its inadequate teaching of evolution from the Thomas A. Fordham Foundation that studies education reform.

He is absolutely correct.

Someone at the St. Petersburg Times Seems to Know

This opinion piece from the St. Petersburg Times has this little nugget.

The board's compromise adds the term "scientific theory" not just to evolution but to other areas of science, including the theories of atoms, cells and electromagnetism. This was done for one purpose: to allow the confusion over the term "theory" to cloud the legitimacy of evolution as the only accepted scientific explanation for life's origins. The scientific theory of plate tectonics doesn't inspire the same religiously grounded backlash.

Scientific theory is not a guess or a mere hypothesis. It is a framework that explains observable facts. In biology, evolution is the unifying theory that continues to be reinforced and verified by ever more sophisticated research. There is no credible alternative scientific theory. Other options, such as intelligent design or creationism, are a matter of personal beliefs or religious teachings. They could be discussed in an appropriate educational setting, but they do not belong in a science curriculum.


Florida Approves Science Standards

The Florida Board of Education approved the standards teaching evolution in schools. Mark Caputo of the Miami Herald writes:

For the first time ever, evolution is to be taught clearly and explicitly in Florida classrooms now that the state Board of Education approved a batch of new science standards Tuesday that mention the ''E'' word. But there's a catch: The subject will be taught as ``the scientific theory of evolution.''

Doesn't ANYONE down there know what the word "theory" means? From, here we go:

theory (a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena) "theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses"; "true in fact and theory"

At this point, Florida needs to figure out how to move forward.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Frog From Hell!

A fossilized frog has been found in Madagascar. The story, from the BBC, states:

The creature would have been the size of a "squashed beach ball" and weighed about 4kg (9lb), the researchers said. They added that the fossil, nicknamed Beelzebufo or "frog from hell", was "strikingly different" from present-day frogs found on the island nation.

The researchers are puzzled as to how it got where it did but it is suggested that a land bridge at Antarctica (which was warmer than now) would have provided the conduit. Here is the image of what the frog probably looked like from National Geographic and how it compares to a modern frog.

Now playing: George Winston - Rain
via FoxyTunes

Florida Votes Today

In advance of the Florida School Board vote on textbooks, the News Press has a rundown of opinions of average Floridians. They are all over the map, although eventually, people are going to have to figure out what the word "theory" means.

Now playing: George Winston - Joy
via FoxyTunes

The Ancestor to the T-Rex is Found

Two dinosaur fossils have been unearthed in the Sahara which may have given rise to the carnivores that included Tyrannosaurus Rex:

The fossilised bones of the two dinosaurs were excavated during an expedition in 2000 but it is only now that scientists have been able to identify and name them as a newly discovered pair of carnivorous species that lived 110 million years ago.

The story also notes:

Until now little has been known about the early evolution of these two major groups of predatory dinosaur that dominated the southern continents. The latest discoveries reveal that Kryptops, Eocarcharia and another dinosaur – Suchomimus, a large, fish-eating dinosaur that walked on two legs – all lived together and would have made a fearsome troika for any plant-eater to face, Mr [Steve] Brusatte said.

Another piece of the puzzle uncovered.

Now playing: George Winston - Living Without You
via FoxyTunes

Cooking = Love? is reporting a talk by anthropologist Greg Laden in which he will argue that cooking kept early humans together, rather than affection, companionship or hunting. This is the thrust of the argument:

"The earliest human ancestors, some kind of chimp-like apes, were living off raw plant foods and probably doing a bit of hunting like chimpanzees do now.

And then, somebody discovers the ability to control fire. Everybody argues about when this happened. We're saying it happened about 2 million years ago. Suddenly, all this food that was previously poisonous or indigestible becomes edible. We're talking about grass seeds, like wheat. And tubers. The amount of energy available to these early human ancestors goes up a huge amount. So, they get bigger. At the same time, their jaws get smaller, which is supported by the fossil record."

So where does the love come in?

Chimpanzee males are way bigger than female chimpanzees. But among early humans, males and females are roughly the same size. And we know that when males and females are roughly the same size, it's a sign of pair bonds, lifelong pair bonds. Male elephant seals are triple the size of females. Male gorillas are also much larger than females, and these animals are all polygamous. But male and female gibbons, for example, are the same size and have pair bondings. So, monogamy and same-sized males and females are linked throughout mammal species.

The same size? Not from what everybody else's research shows. Homo habilis and australopithecines were remarkably dimorphic. The dimorphism starts to even out with late Homo erectus, but not before. Time to run down some of the articles.

Now playing: Alex De Grassi - Turning: Turning Back
via FoxyTunes

Monday, February 18, 2008

We Demand to be Ignorant!

Carl Hiaasen of the Miami Herald has written a witty, tongue-in-cheek editorial about the Board of Education crisis in science education. He writes:

But forget the fossil record, OK? Forget DNA tracing. Forget the exhaustively documented diversification of species.

This battle is about pride and independence; about boldly going against the flow, in defiance of reason and all known facts.

In recent weeks, the Board of Education has been swamped by e-mails and letters from religious conservatives who advocate teaching creationism or intelligent design, and who believe evolution should be discussed strictly as a ``theory.''

For those who wish to see Florida standing still, if not sinking, this is a fantastic strategy. In fact, it could be expanded to revise other educational doctrines.

Let's start teaching gravity as a ''theory,'' too. And don't forget the solar system -- what proof do we really have, besides a bunch of fuzzy, fake-looking photos, that Mars really exists?

And a bit further:

If snubbing is to be done, Florida should be the snubber, not the snubee. Keep your elite biotech payrolls up North and out West -- we've got hundreds of thousands of low-paying, go-nowhere jobs that require little training and minimal education.

As Glenn Reynolds would say, "ouch."

Friday, February 15, 2008

St. Petersburg Times Editorial

There is a short editorial in the St. Petersburg Times on the Florida mess. The last paragraph caught my attention:

Twenty-first century businesses in biotechnology and other sciences are watching Florida's efforts to create an educated work force. Right now, our unwillingness to accept well-established scientific theory is making headlines - just the kind of thing that keeps us a low-wage, tourist-dependant state.


Barry Lynn Responds

BBS News reports that The organization Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has responded to the brouhaha in Florida with a statement. As much as I dislike the organization, he is correct.

Florida Responds to the Science Standards

An article in suggests that the new science standards for Florida fly in the face of what the majority of Floridians think is true about the world. The story notes pointedly:

Only 22 percent want public schools to teach an evolution-only curriculum, while 50 percent want only faith-based theories such as creationism or intelligent design, according to a new St. Petersburg Times survey.

A bit further down:

The Times survey - which included questions about evolution and a host of other education issues - was administered to 702 registered voters Feb. 6-10, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

It revealed a huge gulf between scientists and the public.

While the vast majority of scientists consider evolution to be backed by strong evidence, nearly two-thirds of those polled were skeptical.

To which a scientist replys:

"There is no justification for singling out evolution for special skepticism or critical analysis," wrote Richard T. O'Grady, executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in a Feb. 8 letter to the Board of Education. "Its strength as a scientific theory matches that of the theory of gravitation, atomic theory and the germ theory."

The problem is that most people don't believe that. It doesn't matter how much evidence you show them. The association of evolution with godlessness has become so entrenched in our society that it is difficult to see how the two can be disarticulated. Many people out there without the necessary scientific background don't think about evolution, they feel about it. Because they feel about it, a mountain of evidence won't be enough. How do you address that?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ben Stein's Expelled

Ben Stein has written a blog entry on the new movie 'Expelled,' which chronicles the problems of higher academicians who subscribe to Intelligent Design. He writes:

Choosing to believe in but one scientific theory that effectively negates the whole notion of an intrinsic intelligence, a higher power, an intelligent designer – is fine, if pessimism is what floats your boat.

But that is your choice – or at least it should be a “choice” - for there is ample scientific evidence accumulating under the theory of Intelligent Design that presents an equally compelling – and much more optimistic scientific perspective on life’s “origins.”

And what evidence might that be? Accumulating where? I am not quite sure why he finds evolution gloomy. I find it exciting and full of mystery. Stein has also bought into the age-old mistake (of which I have blogged) that when Darwin wrote The Origin, he was talking about human races. He wasn't. To him, a race was a species. We just did not know what a species was at that point.

Pharyngula is not amused. Neither is Josh Rosenau, but for different reasons.

A Rundown on What is Happening in the States

Stateline has an article that gives a good overview of the contentious battles ensuing in the states involving the E word.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How a Businessman comes to accept Evolution

Businesspundit has written a truly excellent article on how he came to see that he was wrong about creationism and evolution. Something to think about:

Metacognition occurs when you think about your thinking. It means that instead of just analyzing evidence at face value, you start to ask questions about why you favor certain facts over others. You think about whether or not you have emotions, cognitive biases, peer pressures, or other things that are affecting your thought processes. You ask yourself if you would think something different if the roles were reversed, if you had a better day, if you had not had such a bad experience last time. Metacognition has become somewhat of an obsession with me.

Florida Revs Up

A picture paints a thousand words and it is hard to come away from viewing the picture at the beginning of this article in the St. Petersburg Times without thinking "idiot." To be fair, I don't know what the esteemed Mr. Ellis actually was saying when that picture was taken but when you hold up two oranges and speak about evolution, it can't be good. The story notes:

Monday's hearing was in a hotel conference room at Orlando International Airport. Those who spoke did not break new ground, with both sides repeating arguments uttered by scores of people at four prior public hearings, and in thousands of comments on the Education Department Web site. But the sheer number of speakers - and the fact some were willing to travel 200 miles - spoke to how much the issue has touched a chord.

One man linked Charles Darwin to Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. Another said evolution sanctioned murder. Still another held up an orange and said that because of evolution, he now had irrefutable evidence that an orange was "the first cousin to somebody's pet cat" and "related to human beings."

How does this happen in one of the most educated societies on the planet?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Addressing the Problem from Within

The Dallas Morning News has an article on clergy willing to address evolution openly from the pulpit.

As Texas debates creationism in the classroom, here's a different question: Should evolution be in the pulpit? Absolutely, say hundreds of clergy who will observe Evolution Sunday today. If there were more discussion of evolution in the pulpit, they believe, creationism would rightly recede from science classrooms. "Evolution Sunday offers an opportunity to educate our congregations that science is a gift," said the Rev. Timothy McLemore, senior pastor at Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Oak Cliff. "If we believe God is truth, we don't need to shrink from truth in whatever way it presents itself. We don't have to be threatened."

I think that if more clergy were willing to stand up and actually address the issue of evolution, rather than hiding their heads in the sand, like the church did in the early 1900s, progress might yet be made in this arena. The article finishes thus:

Evolution Sunday is an outgrowth of The Clergy Letter Project. Dr. McLemore is among more than 11,000 clergy who have signed an open letter calling for evolution to be taught in schools as settled science.

The letter says in part:

"We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as 'one theory among others' is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children." Must evolution push God from the picture? Far from it, Dr. McLemore said. For him, it only exalts God higher. "As I understand the complexities and intricacies of what has been produced through human evolution, not only does it not make me want to run away from God, it strikes a chord of wonder and awe that I can only describe as worship," he said.

It is always reassuring to know there are other people out there who think the way I do. Here is the address for the Clergy Letter Project. There are currently over 11 thousand signatures on it.

Meanwhile, Across the Pond...

Things seem to be heating up in Europe:

Ken Ham is the founder of Answers in Genesis, a Kentucky-based organization that is part of an ambitious effort to bring creationist theory to Britain and the rest of Europe. McLean is one of a growing number of evangelicals embracing that message — that the true history of the Earth is told in the Bible, not Darwin's "The Origin of Species."

Europeans have long viewed the conflict between evolutionists and creationists as primarily an American phenomenon, but it has recently jumped the Atlantic Ocean with skirmishes in Italy, Germany, Poland and, notably, Britain, where Darwin was born and where he published his 1859 classic.

In a country where the archbishop of Canterbury, the "Hairy Leftie," as he calls himself, has suggested that sharia law might not be a bad thing in England, they want to bring in Creationism? I have to confess, I am of two minds about this. As the article notes a bit further down:

Creationism is still a marginal issue here compared with its impact on cultural and political debate in the United States. But the budding fervor is part of a growing embrace of evangelical worship throughout much of Europe. Evangelicals say their ranks are swelling as attendance at traditional churches declines because of revulsion with the hedonism and materialism of modern society.

The church is England is largely dead and, ordinarily, I would welcome any and all efforts to revitalise it. The problem is that creationism is still creationism: a mix of bad theology and bad science, masquerading as the real thing. What happens when the children learn about real science? How will their theology then fare?

Right in Our Backyard

This is cool. The General Shale Brick Museum of Natural History in Gray, Tennessee has on display a 4 to 7 million year old rhinocerous. The museum is getting very good reviews:

The East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitors Center at the Gray Fossil Site opened in August. The 33,000-square-foot facility is filled with all manner of ancient animal sounds, dramatic displays and interactive exhibits. This kid-friendly spot offers lots of buttons to push, sand to dig in and entertainment for busy little hands.

Here is a photo of the rhino, courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Battle Rages in Florida

The Miami Herald is reporting that legislators in Florida are massing to fight the teaching of evolution in schools as "fact." They prefer to have it taught as "theory." Each one of these intellectually-challenged people should have to open a book and find out what "theory" means. The story notes:

Top state legislators say they're ready to join the fight over putting the word ''evolution'' in Florida's public-school science standards to ensure that it's taught as just a theory and not as fact.

Rep. Marti Coley, future House Speaker Dean Cannon and state Sen. Stephen Wise, all Republicans, say they're considering filing legislation this spring that would specifically call evolution a ''theory'' if the state Board of Education approves the proposed science standards Feb. 19 as currently written.

Hey, guess what? Evolution is a theory. That is why they call it "evolutionary theory." Just like they call it "gravitational theory" and "quantum theory." Do you suppose we can convince these guys to get up in arms about Dihydrogen Monoxide as well?

AIBS argues for Non-Neutrality on Evolution

The American Insitute of Biological Sciences has a released a policy statement harshly condemning the actions of the Texas Education Agency with regard to the resigning of Christine Comer. They write:

According to a memo from TEA officials calling for Comer’s dismissal that was obtained by The Austin American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act, “Ms. Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.”

This is the rejoinder to that decision by AIBS president and SUNY Stony Brook professor Douglas Futuyma:

When it comes to science education, we absolutely cannot remain neutral on evolution. Evolution is the unifying principle of modern biology. Within biological science, the reality of evolution is not controversial. Creationism and its thinly veiled relative, ‘intelligent design,’ continue to pose a real threat to science education and the public understanding of science throughout the United States. It is the responsibility of science educators at all levels to stay well-informed, and to inform their students on the major principles in every area of science. With biology, evolution is the leading principle. We must remain vigilant.

He is correct. "Neutrality" in this instance was simply appeasement to the creation camp.

Feminism Contributed to the Demise of the Neandertals??

Well, this is a new one. CanWest is reporting a story that addresses radical feminism. In addition to what can only be called a stinging indictment, the article (written by a woman) states:

No one knows exactly why Neanderthals became extinct 30,000 years ago, but a new theory recently reported in the Boston Globe suggests that once able-bodied women, the "reproductive core" of their small population, began hunting with the men, it was game over.

Already in survival mode, their combined forces were no match for the perils of climate change, ferocious beasts and interloper Homo sapiens, according to the theory. Worse, while a few Neanderthal men might be expendable, reproductive women were not.

I suppose it's possible. Here is the original Boston Globe article.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Debate on Science

Josh Rosenau reports on a call for a debate between presidential candidates on science. Here is the National Academies press release:

February 4 -- The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine are joining the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Carnegie Institution, the Council on Competitiveness, and several other organizations and universities in an effort to co-sponsor a presidential candidate debate on science, technology, health, and the economy. "This would provide a nonpartisan setting to educate voters on the candidates' positions on key science, technology, and health challenges facing the next administration, while giving the candidates an opportunity to discuss issues that are often overlooked in presidential candidate debates but that are critical to U.S. competitiveness," the presidents of the NAS, NAE, and IOM said in a statement.

"A discussion focused on such issues as how to spur innovation, improve science and math education, confront climate change, and guide advances in biotechnology would do much to inform the American electorate," the statement adds. The NAS, NAE, and IOM are independent, nonprofit organizations that provide advice on policy issues to the government and public under an 1863 congressional charter.

Science, for whatever reason, tends to scare people, including politicians. A great idea has been born.

Atheists Celebrate Darwin Day

The South Florida Sentinel-Sun is reporting of a group of atheists who are going to celebrate Darwin Day:

"So many aspects of science are under attack," said Ken Loukinen, president of Atheists of Broward County, a co-sponsor of Darwin Day. "I am committed to speaking out until intelligent design, abortion and stem cell research are not subjects of discussion anymore."

Two questions: 1. Given that Darwin wasn't an atheist, what is the connexion? 2. What does a socio-political issue like abortion have to do with Darwin Day?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Common Ancestry for Blue Eyes

World Science is reporting on a study indicating that blue eye color was a mutation that took hold some 6 to 10 000 years ago.

“O­rig­i­nally, we all had brown eyes,” said one of the re­search­ers, Hans Eiberg. But a muta­t­ion af­fect­ing a gene called OCA2 “re­sulted in the crea­t­ion of a ‘switch’ which lit­er­ally turned off the abil­ity to pro­duce brown eyes.”

A bit further comes this gem, which shows the power of evolution in populations.

The muta­t­ion of brown eyes to blue is nei­ther pos­i­tive nor neg­a­tive, Eiberg said; rath­er, it’s one of sev­er­al muta­t­ions such as hair colour, bald­ness, freck­les and beau­ty spots, which nei­ther raise nor re­duce a per­son’s sur­viv­al chances. “It simply shows that na­ture is con­stantly shuf­fling the hu­man genome,” he said, “cre­at­ing a ge­net­ic cock­tail of hu­man chro­mo­somes and try­ing out dif­fer­ent changes.”