Friday, May 30, 2008

Stonehenge Burial Ground

Foxnews is reporting a story that Stonehenge is, in fact, an elaborate burial ground. The story notes:

Dating of cremated remains shows burials took place as early as 3000 B.C., when the first ditches around the monument were being built, researchers said Thursday.

And those burials continued for at least 500 years, when the giant stones that mark the mysterious circle were being erected, they said.

"It's now clear that burials were a major component of Stonehenge in all its main stages," said Mike Parker Pearson, archaeology professor at the University of Sheffield in England and head of the Stonehenge Riverside Archaeological Project.

Neat, but not entirely unsurprising.

Now playing: Oscar Peterson - Watch what happens
via FoxyTunes

Born to Believe?

The Pew Trust has a report on "How Our Brains are Wired For Belief." What follows the short article is a transcript of the fourth annual "Faith Angle Conference." Among the highlights:

So how does this work? Why is it that God doesn’t go away? I think religion and spirituality, when we look at these in very broad terms, help us in the same ways that the brain tries to help us, in terms of maintaining ourselves and transcending ourselves. When you look at the vast amount of literature and data that has been collected, we find religion often is extremely supportive of our behaviors: It helps us in terms of our mental health, our ability to cope with various issues and problems, and therefore it tends to be pretty good at helping us maintain ourselves.

It also happens to be pretty good at providing a system by which we transcend ourselves. When you look at most religions, there are a number of points along the way, as you go from birth to adolescence and marriage and ultimately old age, there are approaches and processes in place that enable you to transcend yourself from one moment to the next. The ultimate expression of this self-transcendence may be that we all can achieve some greater being: We can do something a little bit better; we can become better than we are, and transcend ourselves in that way. - Andrew Newberg

Of course, the unspoken question here, which is beyond the scope of neurology is "Did God put the need for belief in our brains through an evolutionary process?" or "Does that area of the brain suggest to us that we believe in a higher power, real or imagined?"

David Brooks writes about religion:

But the other moral precept in this is a very measured view of human nature. We’re not exactly next to the gods. The human mind – especially the human mind – is this jerry-rigged creature with very old things and a few new things built on top of it. It’s a very imperfect little organ. And so, it leads to a very problematic human condition because nature has this old stuff; it doesn’t need to invent something new and efficient; it just piles the new stuff on top of the old stuff.

That carries over into the social belief that every religion that exists must have served some purpose. So you have these theories of spiritual selection, that there were all these thousands of religions, and the ones that died off must have done so because they were ineffective, and the ones that survived, like Islam or Judaism or Christianity, must serve a purpose. They must be superior.

I’m not sure that’s actually testable. But that’s taken on faith because of the power of the Darwinian mindset.

To which Andrew Newberg responds:

Can I just add something to that real fast? For my own personal approach to this, we did used to talk a lot more about the evolutionary basis of religion. As I’ve heard more and more of those arguments, I find they become less and less tenable because there’s – People say, “Religion came into play because it was a way of dealing with the environment. It was a way of bringing people together.” And to some extent, that’s true. But I think it becomes very hard to perceive how we evolved with that ahead-of-time in mind. It becomes a much harder argument to make.

The problem here is that there is still the need to apply philosophical naturalism to every new study. If we preclude the idea that there is a God, then of course religious belief is only a product of neurochemical pathway reactions, irrespective of what put those pathways there in the first place.

It is long and involved, but a good read.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Frogamander

Yahoo News is reporting the discovery of a fossil critter that links salamanders with modern frogs. Quoth the article:

Modern amphibians -- frogs, salamanders and earthworm-like caecilians -- have been a bit slippery about divulging their evolutionary ancestry. Gaps in the fossil record showing the transformation of one form into another have led to a lot of scientific debate.

The fossil Gerobatrachus hottoni or elderly frog, described in the journal Nature, may help set the record straight.

"It's a missing link that falls right between where the fossil record of the extinct form and the fossil record for the modern form begins," said Jason Anderson of the University of Calgary, who led the study. "It's a perfect little frogamander," he said.

Another nail in the coffin.

Hollywood and John McCain

UPI is reporting that support for John McCain is "tepid." Wow, now there's the shock of the century! In the process, McCain picked up an endorsement: Ben Stein. The article notes:

The Politico reported Wednesday that among those supporting the Arizona senator is Warren Beatty, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who has raised more than $100,000 for McCain, and actor Ben Stein.

"I've given him the maximum I'm allowed in this cycle, and when he gets the nomination, I'll give him the maximum again," said Stein, who recently made a documentary about intelligent design.

"Hollywood is not Republican country. There are some of us here, but not enough to make a difference. I don't think Hollywood will be counted on to make a great deal of support for Senator McCain," Stein said.

Warren Beatty?? The man behind the paean to John Reed, the founder of the American Communist Party? My, how times have changed!
I have decided to wait until Expelled comes out on DVD to watch it. There are two reasons for this. 1). it is very hard to find the time with four young children. 2). I want to be able to freeze the action to be able to make lucid comments about it.

Flock of Dodos

I missed this when it came out. There is a movie about the evolution/ID debate called Flock of Dodos, by Randy Olsen, an evolutionary biologist. It is reviewed by Tribeca here. The review reflects an aspect to the controversy missed most of the time:

Olson himself plays a central role in the film, and his winning, gregarious personality is a key to its success, as he interviews majors players on both sides of the intelligent design controversy (as well as his own incredibly vivacious mother, Muffy “Moose” Olson). Despite his science background (he has a degree in evolutionary biology), Olson is as open with intelligent design advocates as he is those on the other side of the issue, and the ease he finds in relating to the former is presented as both troubling and amusing. In Flock of Dodos, supporters of intelligent design come across as straight-forward, friendly people. Evolutionists, on the other hand, tend towards arrogance and intellectual elitism, making it difficult for even one of their own to relate to them. When Olson gathers a group of scientists with whom he played poker in graduate school for another game, they are full of bluster, and obsessed with being “right,” instead of trying to understand their opposition.

One would certainly think so if one's only encounters were with P.Z. Meyers and Richard Dawkins, two of evolution's militant atheists. I will see this after Expelled!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Creation Science Series

Jeannie Fulbright has been busy writing a series called Exploring Creation with Zoology, which takes a distinctly YEC bent. The most recent book Land Animals of the Sixth Day, has been reviewed by Christian Newswire, who write this:

Released in March 2008, Christian book stores are already selling out of this well researched, scientifically profound book, which is the fifth book in Fulbright's creation science sequence. Covering all the land creatures from parasites to primates, Exploring Creation with Zoology III presents scientifically sound teaching, along with evidence for deliberate design, a biblical model for origins and explanations that expose the absurdity of evolutionary leaps of logic.

"Absurdity of evolutionary leaps of logic." Would those be anything like the leaps of logic that have the entire geologic column created in one year and settling just so that it looks like an evolutionary progression? Here are some of the reviews on Amazon. They are not kind. I couldn't find a professional review of the book.

A quick check of the content samples that are available online show that, as long as she sticks to descriptions of the animals, it is okay as far as it goes. It is her section on dinosaurs in which the wheels fall off very quickly. I cannot quote directly, but she brings up the passage in Job 40 and saunters off to the idea that dinosaurs and humans were alive at the same time—without quoting a bit of evidence to support this. Well-researched????

More Kid's Fare at the Creation Museum

According to the Courier-Journal, Ken Ham intends to add more Kids' attractions to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. This was inevitable, I suppose. Given the explosion of "academic freedom" legislation and school board resistance to the teaching of evolution all over the country, this just serves to remind me that "Christian Folk-Science" as Steven Matheson calls it, is alive and well in the good 'ole U.S of A. The article notes:

Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham said among additions to the Creation Museum will be kiosks aimed at kids and an outdoor playground.

The museum, which presents a literal interpretation of the Bible, has hosted more than 400,000 visitors since it opened last May. Officials hope to have 300,000 visitors to the museum in the next year.

Oh! Joy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Academic Freedom" and Evolution

Education Weekly has an article (registration required, confound them!) on the launch of "academic freedom" bills around the country. The article states:

Recent state legislative proposals, introduced not just in Michigan, but also in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Missouri, make no mention of creationism or intelligent design. In fact, each of them specifies that they are not promoting religious doctrine.

Instead, they describe evolution as controversial or subject to doubt. A number of them, including Rep. [John] Moolenaar’s bill, advocate allowing teachers to discuss “scientific strengths” and “scientific weaknesses” of scientific theories, though they do not define what constitutes a legitimate scientific analysis. The Michigan lawmaker’s proposal also identifies humans’ role in climate change and human cloning as science topics that “can cause controversy.”

As if that were not bad enough, the article goes on thus:

The state proposals include language similar or virtually identical to model academic-freedom legislation supported by the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design organization based in Seattle. A Web site,, presents the legislation and an online petition in support of those efforts.

That site also promotes a pro-intelligent-design film now playing in theaters, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” narrated by the actor Ben Stein. ("Coming Soon: Movie Backs ‘Intelligent Design’," Feb. 27, 2008.)

This whole process is deceitful and smacks of desperation. They don't like evolution (despite knowing little to nothing about it in many cases)and they feel that this is the best way to get in the back door because the front door is blocked, for good reason.

Does Science Make God Obselete?

The John Templeton Foundation hosts a debate between leading philosphers, scientists and theologians called Does Science Make Belief in God Obselete? Dr. Steven Pinker starts it off with the following idea:

Traditionally, a belief in God was attractive because it promised to explain the deepest puzzles about origins. Where did the world come from? What is the basis of life? How can the mind arise from the body? Why should anyone be moral?

Yet over the millennia, there has been an inexorable trend: the deeper we probe these questions, and the more we learn about the world in which we live, the less reason there is to believe in God.

This assumes that the observable defines the whole of reality, an argument made by Friedrich Schleiermacher and is currently reflected in the notion of "philosophical naturalism." Cardinal Christof Schönborn parries thus:

In our innermost being, we moderns remain unsatisfied. Sooner or later we face an existential crisis, and recognize in our lives something broken, disordered, in need of redemption. The fact that we can recognize disorder, brokenness, and sin means that they occur within a larger framework of order, beauty, and goodness, or else in principle we could not recognize them as such. Yet brokenness and disorder are painfully present, and the human soul by its nature seeks something more, a deeper happiness, a lasting good. Consideration of the order and beauty in nature can lead us to a Something, the "god of the philosophers," but consideration of our incompleteness leads us beyond, in search of a Someone who is the Good of us all. Science will never make that quest obsolete.

There are many more editorials, including those of Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens and Kenneth Miller. Read 'em all!

Resources for OPAP

With all of the new uproar about ID and legislation, it seems fair to revisit the Of Pandas and People resources at the NCSE. Those can be found here. If you ever encounter this book, run. Failing that, read up on it.

Robert Pennock on Expelled and the Academic Freedom Bills

Robert Pennock, science philosopher at Michigan State University, has a guest editorial in the Michigan Messenger in which he tackles both Expelled and the new academic "freedom" bills being debated in legislatures across the country. His response to Expelled is caustic:

In "Expelled," the deception began early. Scientists like Richard Dawkins were snookered into appearing in the film, having been solicited to be interviewed for what was purported to be a documentary called "Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion" that was to examine the interplay of science and religion in America. Stein has denied that anyone was deceived, and implied that no one even asked about what the film was about. Not so.

How do I know? Because I received the same solicitation and was interviewed by "Expelled" producer Mark Mathis, though he never mentioned that name or Stein’s involvement. I questioned Mathis in detail about his production company, the nature of the Crossroads documentary and plans for its distribution before agreeing to be interviewed for it. I now know that his answers were misleading and dishonest.

What did Mathis want to interview me about? Why, he asked, can’t ID be discussed in the academy? In retrospect, I see how this question fit with "Expelled’s" message, but at the time I simply thought that he was new to the topic and misinformed. I explained that in fact ID has been given very careful consideration in the academy for more than 15 years. It has been the subject of numerous symposia, academic talks and university courses. ID advocates have been invited to speak at universities, professional conferences and in college classrooms. Their views have been published and discussed in dozens of academic books and hundreds of articles.

It is disappointing that the ID community took a golden opportunity, one to present their views to the public and went about it in such a deceitful way. Pennock never appeared in the film. One has to wonder why, if the producers wanted to present the debate in a fair way, were people like Jen Wulf, Terry Gray, Howard van Till and others excluded from it. These are people who are either Christians or at least sympathetic to the cause but have rejected ID on scientific grounds. These would have rounded out the film, but made for less drama. Interviewing only P.Z. Meyers and Richard Dawkins is like doing a film about the NBA and only interviewing Dennis Rodman.

He is equally caustic on the legislative attempts:

The “Academic Freedom” bills are similarly dishonest. They are a ruse to get ID creationism in without using the name. Rep. Moolenaar and other ID advocates in the Legislature have introduced a series of bills over the last eight years aimed to get ID in public schools. Early bills introduced ID explicitly, but recent ones follow the new DI strategy of just calling for “critical evaluation” of evolution. DI Fellow Ralph Seelke was brought to Lansing to speak on behalf of the last such bill. It has nothing to do with ID, he testified, but in the very next breath spoke of how it would allow students to learn important arguments against evolution such as those of Michael Behe. Come again? Not about ID? Behe is another DI Fellow, and one of the most prominent ID creationists. The bills may speak of free speech, but their goal is to bring in ID and to undermine evolutionary science.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is more than a tad suspicious that many of these bills fall on the heels of changes in school curricula that solidly back the teaching of evolution. If the DI wants to develop a reputation, this is not the way to do it. This is no different than the Dover school board decision to truck in copies of Of Pandas and People in the dead of night. Deception leaves a very bad taste in people's mouths. More and more, the "Wedge Strategy" hangs around the DI like an anchor, and it won't be too long before someone throws it overboard.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Missing the Point in Expelled?

This letter showed up in the Roanoke Times. It is priceless:

Critics of 'Expelled' protest too little

Michael Scott's op-ed "Intelligent Design lacks testable theories" (May 2 commentary) is the fifth irate review of the Ben Stein movie "Expelled" that I've read. As a biologist who is not opposed to evolution, I found it amazing that the five reviewers all failed to mention the climax.

There, Richard Dawkins, the reigning champion of atheism, admits he believes (like Nobel laureate Francis Crick) that intelligent design by space aliens (but certainly not God) is plausible. What a hoot!

The reviews simply miss or reinforce the movie's take-home message, that opposition to intelligent design has a large component of Christianphobia.


That speaks for itself. Good show, Mr. Putnam!

More about the Education Bill at the Advocate

The Louisiana Advocate has another article on HB733, which allows teachers to expand their normal classroom materials to include "controversial" materials. Amid the hubbub, there is one thing that seems to get lost

“There is absolutely no need for this bill,” said Tammy Wood, a veteran educator in the Zachary School District and a former Louisiana science teacher of the year.

She is right. I am reminded of what Kenneth Miller said about the Dover case. We ought to be examining ALL of science critically, not just evolution. It should infuse all of our investigations. To believe that the passage of this bill just happens to coincide with a change in the way the science curriculum handles evolution in Louisiana would be a bit of a stretch.

Steve Matheson's Blog

Steve Matheson, a professor of Biology at (where else) Calvin College, that oasis in the middle of the Christian intellectual desert, has a blog that is great to read. His two most recent posts on tomato leaf morphology and how the bat got its wing are concise, clearly written and (ought to be) compelling to anybody of a creationist bent. While my blog tends to be more newsy and less interpretive, Steve seems to have really gotten the feel for what a blog ought to be. Bookmark this one!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The PLoS Study: Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms

Here is the study that was done for the PLoS Biology journal on creationism and evolution in the classroom. The authors write, among other things:

We followed most previous studies in asking teachers to think about how they allocate time over the course of the school year. We went a step further in also asking whether evolution serves as a unifying theme for the content of the course. Over the entire year of high school biology we found substantial variation among America's high school teachers (see Table 1).

To me, more interesting is Table 2:

Even though there is clearly a strange thing going on with biology teachers, there is also a huge gulf between the biology teachers and the general public. Read the article.

New Poll: the Smoking Gun

ABC News reports on the study on creationism in PLoS that has confirmed that 16% of high school biology teachers are creationists. By creationists, they mean creationism as a "valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species." Not in conjunction with evolution but as an alternative to it. Sometimes I wonder how these questions are phrased...

Yup, It Passed

Here is another Times-Picayune story on the bill. It addresses both concerns in the last post:

An amendment added by Rep. Don Trahan, R-Lafayette and the committee's chairman, gives the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education the ability to prohibit introduction of materials, but that didn't mollify the bill's opponents.

"Anything could get into the classroom," said Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and a member of the Louisiana Coalition for Science.

She is right. Also, it would be hard for the oversight board to not become politicized.

A Contrary Position from Barbara Forrest

Barbara Forrest, one of the principles in the Dover trial has responded to the potential passage of HB733:

The committee can make it easier for Louisiana students to get the education they need to compete with the rest of the country, or they can make it more difficult.

They can help enhance education in Louisiana, making it more likely that educated people will stay and that other talented people will come, or they can perpetuate Louisiana’s image as a backwater.

I think that the potential danger in the passage of HB733 is that what is already a patchwork of science education will become worse as different teachers use their own "add-ons," some of which will undoubtedly be contrary to established science teaching. Who would hold them accountable?

A Disgruntled Student Strikes Back

The Advocate has a letter by a graduate student in Baton Rouge, who is hacked off about the current ID debate in Louisiana and says, well, see for yourself:

There has been a long string of college professors and now even a machinist that has written about how intelligent design is “bad” science and that our kids will not be able to compete.

News flash to professors and machinist: teaching our kids their way has made them unable to compete NOW! Louisiana is ranked among the worst in public school education, and they are telling us that intelligent design is bad? Is this a joke?

Of course this brings us to one glaring question in this debate; if mixing religion and science makes for “bad” education then how is it that schools like Catholic High, Episcopal High, Parkview Baptist turn out world-class medical doctors, engineers, scientists, etc.

A fair question, no? Of course, this only scratches the surface of why the public schools are bad. There are so many reasons.

Class Add-Ons

The Louisiana House Education Committee passed, with absolutely no reservations, a bill to allow science teachers to use supplementary class material when talking about global warming, evolution and other radioactive topics, according to the Times-Picayune. This is House Bill 733, that is being debated. There is a lot of heat surrounding this:

Opponents, including members of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Sen. Ben Nevers' Science Education Act is part of a broader strategy by groups that have failed in previous legislative battles and court cases to legitimize teaching biology from a perspective that assumes an intelligent designer of life.

Nevers, D-Bogalusa, reacted angrily to those accusations: "There is no language in here submitted by some secret agent trying to teach religion in public schools."

The bill includes a clause stating that the intent is neither to promote nor discriminate against any religious doctrine. Nevers also accepted an amendment that would give the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education final say about what materials teachers could bring to the classroom.

I am of two minds about this. I tend to regard global warming a bit more skeptically than many and would welcome well-researched, authoritative material on the subject that might not tow the party line. On the other hand, I have yet to find any such material attacking evolution and would not be in favor of kids being taught conflicting information that appears to be on the same playing field but, actually is not.

The book State of Fear by Michael Crichton, aside from being a great page-turner, has an excellent post script warning about the politicizing of science. It should be a must read for any educator and researcher.

New Blog

Steve Martin just posted on my blog. He has his own up at Check it out!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Positive Review of Your Inner Fish

The Journal Star from Lincoln, Nebraska has a review of Your Inner Fish, written by Dick Herman, staff writer. He starts off with a bang:

This is not a book Creationist folks will much enjoy. For all others, though, there’s a very good deal of fascinating, mind-stretching, even worrisome information. The text invites browsers to consider the evolutionary processes that got all of us to where we are today, and have been for the last few 10,000 years. And exactly where we are is having a not especially well-designed human body after all this time. For the curious, reading is recommended.

New Video from the NCSE on the Evolution of Of Pandas and People.

Josh Rosenau has posted a video from the NCSE on the evolution of the awful book Of Pandas and People from the creationist book pre-1987 to the ID book post-1987. The defining moment was the Edwards vs. Aguillard court case ruling that creationism was religious and could not be taught in the public schools. This came out in the Nova special, but this is a short, good video.

Creationism Still Taught in Public Schools According to Survey

Daily India has a story about the teaching of creationism in the United States. According to the story:

London, May 20: US courts might have ordered ban on teaching creationism in schools, but still one in eight high-school biology teachers teach it as valid science, according to a survey. The surveyors say that though courts have ruled that creationism and intelligent design are religion, teachers take it as a matter of discretion to decide what is to be taught.

Here's the amazing quote:

Upon being questioned about their own beliefs about creationism, about 16 per cent teachers said that they believed human beings had been created by God within the last 10,000 years.

Based on what evidence???? Aren't these science teachers? This is another reason I don't have my kids in public schools.

Aliens and Evolution

The Pope's Astronomer, Jose Gabriel Funes, has, in an interview, admitted that "there would be nothing surprising about the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrials." The article continues:

"Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on Earth, so there could be other beings created by God [beyond it]," he said. The interview suggests that the Church's hierarchy may be paving the way to showing that Pope Benedict XVI is more open to the ideas of modern science than he has previously seemed to be.

As far as evolution is concerned, the article suggests a bit of discord with regard to Vatican views:

Fr Funes, in the interview, admits that, for him, evolution is a given. He also said that he believed in the Big Bang theory as the most likely explanation for the origin of the universe, and that the Bible should not be held to account for its lack of scientific accuracy. "Fundamentally," he said, "the Bible is not a book of science... It's a love letter written by God to his people in the language of two or three thousand years ago... So one cannot ask the Bible for scientific responses."

Funny, I think that William Jennings Bryan said this around a hundred years ago.

Yoko Ono to Get Here Day in Court

A New York judge has stated that he will rule shortly on the lawsuit brought by Yoko Ono on the use of "Imagine" by John Lennon.

Lawyer Anthony T. Falzone said the movie, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," was set to open in Canada on June 6 and DVD rights needed to be finalized by the end of May for distribution in October. The movie is still being shown in about 200 theaters in the United States.

He said an adverse ruling by Stein would mean "you have muzzled the speech of my clients" because they would have to replace the song with other images, losing the chance to make the issue important enough that it could even influence the U.S. presidential campaign.

Well, I don't know about influencing the presidential campaign. That sounds a bit far-fetched. It will have bearing on the movie, though.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The ICR has done a piece rightly castigating the bad theology of Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott and P.Z. Meyers . I have challenged them to do a piece on Francis Collins, who champions evolution from within a theistic construct. I bet they won't. The piece contains this little gem, commenting on Dr. Scott:

When she ranks evolution as one of the "core ideas of science," Scott grants it the same legitimacy as the studies conducted on gravity and atomic theory-- although these involve testable phenomena, whereas there has been no observable scientific evidence for macroevolution.13

The foot note goes to this note: See Morris, H. 2000 and 2001. The Scientific Case against Evolution, Parts 1 & 2. Acts & Facts. 28 (12) and 29 (1), who says, among other things, that evolution is not happening now. Oh really? How does he know this? Because he sees cats and dogs around but no dats or cogs. Yup, that there's evidence.
Now playing: Miles Davis - Milestones
via FoxyTunes

The Chicken From Hell

There is new evidence that the Tyrannosaurus Rex grouped with birds than with reptiles:

"We determined that T. rex, in fact, grouped with birds — ostrich and chicken — better than any other organism that we studied," said researcher John Asara of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. "We also show that it groups better with birds than [with] modern reptiles, such as alligators and green anole lizards."

This came about with the finding of a drumstick with soft tissue still intact inside. Neat.

Oh, That Bouncing Ball of Fire

According to a story in Foxnews:

The sun bounces up and down as it roams the Milky Way, and such wavering might have hurled showers of comets Earth's way that caused mass extinctions, including the one that killed the dinosaurs, a new study claims.

Not everyone is convinced:

"The whole concept is wrong," said NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory astronomer Paul Weissman, who did not participate in this study. "As you cross the galactic plane, it's not like you go over a speed bump. The variation in any cratering rate would be very gentle, not in sudden pulses."

This ought to be fun to watch.
Another story on the revival of dead genes.

Science Meets Fiction

According to a story in Yahoo News the extinct genes of a Tasmanian Tiger have been revived in a mouse embryo. The story notes:

"This is the first time that DNA from an extinct species has been used to induce a functional response in another living organism," said research leader Andrew Pask of the University of Melbourne.

The announcement was hailed here as raising the possibility of recreating extinct animals.

Didn't Michael Crichton basically point out that that is a BAD IDEA?????

Woman to Woman: A Debate

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a point-counterpoint argument about Intelligent Design. The commentary is by Susan Feldhahn. She writes:

Darwin’s theory was published 149 years ago, and has been the primary origin-of-life theory since the 1930’s. Since then, evidence to support macroevolution (one species mutating to a different species) has advanced only marginally, while evidence questioning it has exploded. Advances in genetics, cellular biology, chemistry and many other fields have been seized to map human DNA and create wonder drugs. Yet they also raise questions about Darwinian macroevolution - which no scientist can follow up without being “expelled” from the respect of the scientific community. It’s absolutely absurd.

Well, that's wrong. There is quite a bit of evidence of macroevolution as well as transitional species. There is something absurd about this passage, all right. This has become achingly familiar: a writer argues that scientists cling blindly to evolution despite the fact that there is little evidence for it. The problem is that the writer is completely unaware of the avalanche of evidence that evolution (micro and macro) has in the tank. That's embarrassing.

The rebuttal is by Andrea Cornell Sarvady, who writes:

Do Intelligent Design proponents really think that the thousands of geologists digging their lives away wouldn’t be thrilled to discover mammal fossils down in the age of fishes? Darwin would spin in his grave, but so what? Scientists want to be right. For this reason, they study Intelligent Design tirelessly. Too bad that the evidence for it just isn’t there.

This is not the homerun I was hoping for but it is a good parry. Scientists tend to react badly at having a political campaign waged against them masquerading as science. I would too. Here is my comment about the paragraph by Ms. Feldhahn:

Wrong. There is quite a bit of evidence of macroevolution as well as for the existence of transitional species. The human fossil record alone is replete with evidence of transitional forms grading from one species to another. There is something absurd about what Ms. Feldhahn writes, all right. This attack has become achingly familiar: a writer argues that scientists cling blindly to evolution despite the fact that there is little evidence for it. The problem is that the writer is completely unaware of the avalanche of evidence that evolution (micro and macro) has in the tank. I have seen this before in the works of Phillip Johnson and anything that comes out of the Institute for Creation Research. Please, If you are going to tackle evolution at least know what you are talking about.

Now playing: Bill Evans - Solar

A Plug for HB733 in Louisiana

HB733 is similar to the "Academic Freedom Bill in Florida," in that it would allow teachers to teach controversial concepts in science class and it is being plugged by a chemist.

Anthropology Professor's Speech on Evolution Cancelled on Darwin Day

Yup, you read that right. I missed this the first time through. Lorena Madrigal was to give a Darwin Day speech in Pinellas County, Florida until the county officials got the heebeejeebees:

"Biology without evolution is not biology," she suggested, which obviously explains, at least in the mind of William Davis, the Pinellas County director of environmental services, why the professor's speech would be problematic.

Canceled Out

"Her topic was about evolution," Davis said. Well, yeaaaaaah! "I flinched on that."

"I canceled her out after discussing it with my supervisors," he said. "We are not the platform for debate on creationism versus evolution."

Even on Darwin Day?!?!?! Apparently not.

"We don't believe it's our role to engage in that debate," Davis said.

Florida gets weirder and weirder.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kenneth Miller on ID

Here is a video snarfed off of Youtube featuring Kenneth Miller talking about Intelligent Design at Case Western Reserve University.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Something Blue
via FoxyTunes

Yet Another Book to Read

Debora and Loren Haarsma have published a book titled Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design and Evolution. It seems on the surface to be even-handed. Here is the link.

The Evolution of the Hiccup and Other Traits reproduces a Philadelphia Inquirer article on the evolution of the hiccup, why we have hernias and other lovable traits conducted with Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish. According to the story:

The sound of a hiccup echoes back to our very distant past as fish and amphibians some 375 million years ago, Shubin said. It's really just a spasm that causes a sharp intake of breath followed by a quick partial closing of our upper airway with that flap of skin known as the glottis. It's best if you can nip it in the first couple of hics, he said.

It's much harder to stop once you've let yourself get up to 10. By that point, you've reverted to an ancient breathing pattern orchestrated by the brain stem that once helped amphibians breath, letting water pass the gills without leaking into the lungs. "Tadpoles normally breathe with something like a hiccup," Shubin said.

Can't wait until the book comes.

The "God Lab" Opens

New Scientist notes that the Discovery Institute has unveiled the "Biologic Institute" in Redmond, Washington designed to search for evidence of Intelligent Design. One hopes that some sort of methodological framework will emerge. I am not holding my breath. The author writes:

The Biologic Institute in Redmond, Washington, has been shrouded in secrecy since it was established more than a year ago by the Discovery Institute, an organisation which claims ID is a scientific theory (New Scientist, 16 December 2006, p 8). Its existence was finally made public on 10 May, when details of the project were published online at

Saturday, May 17, 2008

More on the Darwin Exposition at the Royal Ontario Museum

Peter Calamai of the Toronto Star writes on the not-so blatant anti-creationism flavor of the Darwin exposition at the ROM:

Take this statement from a panel headed "Creationism" at the close of the exhibit:

"For 150 years since the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, the theory of evolution by natural selection has not been seriously challenged by any other scientific explanation."

The weasel word here is "seriously," since that's very much a qualitative judgment.

It also includes this little historical tidbit:

The only obvious Canadian touch in the show is a case that contains T.H. Huxley's application to the University of Toronto for the post of professor of natural philosophy, as science was then known. Among Huxley's letters of support is one from Charles Darwin.

U of T passed Huxley over for a far less qualified man with political connections. Huxley was thus available later in England to become "Darwin's Bulldog," defending natural selection in public talks with his arm draped around a gorilla's skeleton.

Sure would be nice to get up there for it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

More Slings and Arrows for Expelled!

John Vandehey writes in the Daily Emerald that Ben Stein's movie Expelled is not well thought out. He ask what effect the adoption of ID as a workable theory would have on science:

But what would happen to religion? Intelligent design proposes the existence of an overseer, a guiding, intelligent force which directs evolution. Every deity-based religion would point to it and say, "Ho! There's proof that we are right."

And therein lies the stumbling point. The moment religion gets proof, it's not religion anymore; it's fact. There's no faith; everything is given. There's no wonder; there's just a footnote in a school biology textbook that students will read, memorize for the test, and quickly forget.

To me, the greatest gift that religion and spirituality can give is hope, the ability to do the right thing and work for good without any expected personal gain, to do it just because you have faith in the inherent goodness in the world. If we give proof to religion, then doing the right thing becomes no different from paying taxes: it becomes mechanical and without meaning. While I would love to see more people doing the right thing, I can't appreciate a good thing done just because it had to be done; if a person must endure some hardships for doing the right thing, then it shows me that he or she cares about what they do.

In some senses, this is similar to the argument I make that if the YEC supporters really got their way and had creationism taught in public schools, it would be devastating to Christianity. All of those badly-formed, out-of-date arguments would be taught in science class and held up to scientific scrutiny. The results would be catastrophic. They don't really want what they think they want.

Freedom of Expression at

Salon has a column called "The Atheist and the Creationist" which takes the form of a letter to the editor in which a man is vexed at the thought that one of his friends might be willing to teach creationism to his children. He writes:

As my wife put it, we consider teaching young earth creationism (in any sense other than as a theology, if it must be taught at all) to be a form of child abuse. It seems bad enough that he has raised his two children with a belief system that he himself has acknowledged has serious holes in it, but it seems far worse that he is now thinking seriously about helping other children drink the Kool-Aid.

After some rumination, the response includes the following:

I believe freedom of expression is more important than the wide dissemination of correct views. I arrived at this conclusion by considering that in a democracy state power will inevitably be used to bolster, promote and enforce ideas and ideals that germinate in personal and family life. So I say in our private lives we ought to tolerate and embrace what we consider to be nutty, in the hope that this is the private behavior that will eventually filter upward into state power. For if what we value in our private lives is the dissemination of correct views, that is the value that is likely to take root in government. And that is the view that leads to tyranny, in my humble opinion.

This is an area that I struggle with constantly as well because I think that people should have the right to educate their children in the best way that they know. At the same time, I do not think that they should have the right to educate them using outdated or wrong educational material. That does the child a disservice and ill-prepares him or her for the world at large. I will have to find an answer to this soon.

My brother Dave is not a champion of states rights and argues that the education curriculum should be standardized. The reason it is not is that there are a whole bunch of people out there who would object to some of the things that the central government would put into it. I sympathize. I don't want my five-year-old taught about contraception. I also have a problem with my kids being taught that to accept the idea that homosexuality is "normal" when it is only practiced by 2-3% of the population. No other behavior that restricted in practice would be considered "normal." I also think, however, that evolution should be part of every state's curriculum. It is established science and the arguments against it are unpersuasive at best and facile at worst.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Debate at

A series of post in the Roanoke Times is interesting to follow. The first one, "Evolution and Aliens," is written by Linda Whitlock, a Times columnist and adjunct English Professor. She has gone to see "Expelled!" She writes:

"Expelled" has been criticized for implying a link between evolutionary theory and Hitler's murderous policies. But the link clearly is there. Evolution provided the rationale for the eugenics movement and eugenics the justification for getting rid of the unfit, which, to the Nazis, included the Jews. For the greater good.

If evolution is true, it's true. Blinding ourselves to its possible consequences is foolhardy.

But what if it isn't true? What if something else -- some sort of intelligence, if you will -- is running the show? That's the tantalizing question some scientists have been asking. Some things just don't fit neatly into the evolutionary model. They seem, well, designed.

Actually, as I and other people have noted, the link is not there. It is inferred by many people not related to the events and people of the time. One assumes that evolution is the concept by which Hitler acted out his eugenics programs. Further, asking what if evolution is not true implies that one has done research to that effect. That is the problem. Evolution is so well backed up by evidence that it is difficult to suggest it is not.

Michael Scott, Roanoke resident, replies thus:

The problem with Intelligent Design is it has no testable theories. Proponents just don't have anything on which a scientist could hang a hat, and until they do, they will not be taken seriously by any credible scientific community. The reason they don't get any air time in science is because they don't do science.

Well put, Michael. Linda replied in "God, Science Not Exclusive":

In my early American lit classes, I sometimes ask students to explain how John Edwards and Cotton Mather, two noted Puritan theologians, could be both men of God and men of science. Mather, in fact, was a member of the British Royal Society. The students are so convinced that God and science are separate, however, most have a tough time coming up with a coherent explanation.

If science really were defined today simply as an orderly and rational investigation of the natural world, Edwards, Mather, ID theorists and evolutionists alike could all play together on the same field. A more accurate definition for today, though, is that science is an effort to explain all natural phenomena by natural causes only.

That definition pretty much rules Edwards, et al., out of bounds. But given the things we don't have answers for -- how the universe began, how life got started, where DNA originated, to name a few -- there's no way we can be sure all natural phenomena can be explained by natural causes.

Herein lies the crux of one of the misconceptions out there: evolutionary theory does not explain the origin of life or anything about the origin of the universe. It is simply not designed to do so. Many people forget that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Expelled too Polarizing?

Jen Wulf of the South Bend Tribune has written an exceptional editorial on Expelled! The editorial deals with the scope of the movie and that it was intended to be polarizing. She is particularly critical of one aspect:

Stein, however, never interviews evolutionists who see their scientific views as either compatible with, or distinct from, their religious beliefs.

One such scientist is Kenneth Filchak, a practicing Roman Catholic and a professor of biology at the University of Notre Dame. He disagrees with the idea that the theory of evolution devalues human life, and he does not relate it to atheism.

“Darwin said probably the most profound thing that any scientist has ever said: ‘If you go far enough back in time, all things on our planet are related.’

“If you start really thinking about it, that sounds really biblical to me. It sounds like something God would do, to make everything related,” Filchak says.

Read the whole thing.

Evolution Exhibit in Toronto

The Toronto Star has a story on a new exhibit on Charles Darwin and evolution at the Royal Ontario Museum. The exhibit dwells not just on Darwin but on the controversy surrounding his theory on natural selection. As the Star writer Geoff Pevere notes:

Small wonder Darwin himself sat on the revelation for years before publishing it. He knew what was coming. As he wrote in a letter, he felt like he was "committing murder."

While there remains much dispute as to just what Darwin killed or how effectively he did so, at the very least he strangled the notion that history might have contained that fabulously dramatic moment when men went spear to talon with T-rex. Never happened. At least not in nature. But who needs nature (or Charles Darwin) when you've got movies?

Yet there may be no country in the world other than America where a movie featuring both dinosaurs and people would be regarded as the truth.

Consider the statistics. According to Susan Jacoby's recent book The Age of American Unreason, which singles out certain anti-Darwinian strains in American culture as an especially egregious example of the country's drift away from rationalism, "Fewer than half of Americans – 48 per cent – accept any form of evolution (even guided by God), and just 26 per cent accept Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Fully 42 per cent say that all living beings, including humans, have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."

Yup. The continual problem. Much like the clerics who would not look into Galileo's telescope, it isn't that most people don't know anything about evolution, most people don't want to know anything about it. The exhibit opened on March 8.

Einstein and God

Lest any of you out there think that Albert Einstein was a Christian, Bloomsbury Auctions is selling a letter written by Einstein a year before his death in which he states that belief in the Bible is "childish." He says other things as well:

The letter up for sale, written to philosopher Eric Gutkind in January 1954, suggests his views on religion did not mellow with age.

In it, Einstein said that "the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."

Richard Dawkins would be proud. For me, it is another example of where science and religion just don't mix.

Trouble in Maine

According to Articles of Interest, there is a debate in Maine School Administrative District 59 over the teaching of evolution. The story notes:

Director Matthew Linkletter argues that evolution is an unprovable theory and shouldn't be taught as fact. He's urged the SAD 59 Board of Directors to consider his view during its May 19 meeting in Madison, with a goal of removing evolution from science classrooms.

But David Connerty-Marin, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, says evolution must be taught because, in the state's view, it's a proven science.

My brother Dave lives with his wife in Maine and he says that the population is composed of two very different socio-economic groups, one very affluent and educated and the other, shall we say, less so. Maine was once known for textile mills and manufacturing and most of those jobs have evaporated or moved away but many of the people stayed.


A German archaeologist has claimed to have found the palace of the Queen of Sheba and, hence, the possible place of the lost Ark of the Covenant. According to the story:

"From the dating, its position and the details that we have found, I am sure that this is the palace," he said. The palace, that is, of the Queen of Sheba, who is believed to have lived in the 10th century B.C. After she died, her son and successor, Menelek, replaced the palace with a temple dedicated to Sirius. The German researchers believe that the Ark was taken from Jerusalem by the queen — who had a liaison with King Solomon — and built into the altar to Sirius.

"The results we have suggest that a Cult of Sothis developed in Ethiopia with the arrival of Judaism and the Ark of the Covenant, and continued until 600 A.D.," an announcement by the University of Hamburg on behalf of the research team said.

I dunno. Sounds a tad funny. As they say, you can find enough wood from the original cross of Jesus to build an ark.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Maryann Johanson on "Expelled!"

Maryann Johanson of the Colorado Independent suggests that scientists and the public need to go on the offensive regarding the new Ben Stein-narrated movie "Expelled!" She writes:

We cannot dismiss this movie, because all those who care about public discourse in America and the ongoing war on scientific literacy need to see it in order to arm themselves against the idiocy. The film — written by Stein, Kevin Miller and Walt Ruloff, and directed by Nathan Frankowski — shows just how insidious the "intelligent design" proponents are.

Aside from the Darwin/Hitler connexion, there are other insights:

Since Stein is unable to adequately critique evolutionary science, he resorts to a kind of name-calling that is purposely designed to mislead his audience. He constantly refers to those who accept evolution as "Darwinists," which is akin to referring to quantum physicists as "Newtonians" or "Copernicans." He does this even though one of his own ID proponents notes that biological science has moved on from Darwin just as physical science has moved on from Newton.

While Darwin's concept of Natural Selection is clearly the driving force behind evolution, it is important to remember that Darwin did not know of the existence of genes and by extension, could not formulate the concepts of genetic drift, flow mutation, and the various forms of speciation that occur. The negative review are building up.

The Fuzzy Black Box

My mother had a stroke over the weekend. It seems to have burned out her speech center. For quite some time, all she could get out was "yes" or "no." It was clear that she was all there, she just could not communicate. That was Saturday. By Monday night, she was speaking in phrases. What a strange thing the brain is.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Expelled!: A Review from Blogcritic

Michael Clayton of Blogcritic writes a piece called "An Analysis of the Arguments Presented in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed!" The problem is that he doesn't really get around to doing so until the third page, and then in half-hearted fashion. The article largely just recapitulates the narrative of the film, with little added insight for the first two pages. His only real analysis is that the film is "certainly a one-sided affair." Beyond that, there are the usual problems. For example, he writes:

According to the information presented in the film, there have been active efforts to remove the theory of intelligent design from the consciousness of educational institutions nationwide, and to exalt the theory of evolution as the only rational explanation for the origin and development of life. In my opinion, this process is fraught with flaws. It seems that these institutions have gradually lost sight of one of the most prominent characteristic of evolutionary theory: it is ultimately just a theory. Yet in many scientific circles, it is no longer considered a theory, but fervently argued as completely factual.

Note to all those who wish to write about these topics--Learn what a theory is first!! He goes on:

Another astounding trend outlined in the film is the fact that the theory of intelligent design is repeatedly identified as a code word for creationism. Stein conducts a series of interviews with many of the most outspoken opponents of intelligent design, and many of them attempt to use the discussion as a platform to slander Christianity and similar beliefs.

While it is certainly true that some, like Dawkins, do exactly that, there is ample justification for the connexion between Christianity and ID, as was starkly brought out in the Dover trial, where the school board trucked in copies of the execrable book Of Pandas and People, reviewed here, here and here. As far as the origin of life is concerned, he writes this:

At the same time, evolutionists have yet to present a reasonable alternative argument as to how life began. Rather than producing further research and analysis on evolutionary theory in order to provide their own conclusion to this process, it would appear that many evolutionists have sought to target and eliminate all traces of intelligent design from modern scientific theory.

Not their job to do so. Evolutionary theory does not deal with origin of life questions. Finally, in the third page, he gets to his objections to how the film was put together. Even here, though, he blunts his criticisms by saying the following:

Another concern I had relating to the presentation of the film was the way in which some of the information was acquired for the film. A number of the figures involved with the production, including Richard Dawkins, claimed they were misled about the purpose of the film, and were not aware that it was a film advocating the instruction of intelligent design. While I do not necessarily approve of this method in regards to acquiring information, it should be noted that the comments made by Richard Dawkins are similar to comments made by the man himself consistently on his own website. Therefore, while the way in which his involvement was enlisted is questionable, his responses in the film seem to be pretty representative of his personal ideology.

This is specious reasoning. Richard Dawkins' ideology doesn't enter into it. If someone were to come up to me and tell me they were making a movie about the strengths of evolutionary biology and interviewed me to that extent and then when the film came out, it promoted the six-day creation model, I would be pretty hacked off. Not because my views weren't properly expressed but because the interviewer lied about why he was interviewing me. The question is not about my views or those of Richard Dawkins. The question is about the motives of the interviewer. Not a useful review.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Editorial: Academic Freedom Act is a Bad Idea

An argument against the "Academic Freedom Bill" from the Destin Log's Fraser Sherman. It is concisely written and covers most of the the rebuttal points. For example:

•“Intelligent design has nothing whatsoever to do with religion.” The ID-supporters of the Discovery Institute have admitted ID is a “wedge” for putting “Christ-centered” science into schools. And one religious publisher put out an ID textbook, “Pandas and People,” by reprinting a creationist text with “ID” where “creationism” used to go.
•“Creation science is science.” No more than “flat earth geography” would be geography. You can put lipstick on a pig, but ...
•”Darwin’s theory of evolution remains a theory with no scientific conclusions on the origin of life.” Which is why he called his book “The Origin of Species,” not “of Life.” Evolution is about how life changes, not how it started — and the proof that life has been evolving for millennia is overwhelming. The origin of life is a separate question, as witness that even some devout creationists have conceded evolution does work at least sometimes (it explains why bacteria become immune to antibiotics, for instance) without changing their views on Genesis.

A good read.

ID Part of a Surge in Evangelicalism at Universities?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece recounting the rise of evangelicalism in today's colleges and universities. The writer, D. Michael Lindsey, notes changes from past movements:

Unlike fundamentalists who retreat from pluralistic environments, evangelicals relish the chance to engage people who hold different beliefs. This could present an opportunity for deeper understanding on our campuses, but it will happen only if we bring evangelicals into our classroom discussions. Just as the debate surrounding intelligent design has forced many biologists to engage religious topics in the classroom, so will rising religious pluralism. As we make greater progress in medicine and genomics, we should expect the number of moral issues surrounding those developments to multiply. That, joined with the rising number of evangelical students on our campuses, will demand of us at least a basic understanding of what this religious community believes.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

On the other hand...

Reading the reviews of Expelled, it seems to me that most of them are even-handed. For example, Matt McKilop suggests more than a few similarities to Michael Moore films. He writes:

Expelled then goes on to interview a number of proponents of intelligent design. Each of them sounds smart, obviously more knowledgeable about science and the origin of life than I am, but the film fails to define exactly what these men think and what they're proposing. I understand they reject the theory of evolution. I understand that intelligent design involves a "designer." But what else? What would intelligent design research contribute to the body of science literature? How would intelligent design researchers test their claims? Unfortunately, the film doesn't bother to provide answers to these questions.

Perhaps the worst part of Expelled comes when Stein tries to connect the theory of evolution and Nazism. While it's true that Hitler used Darwin's theories to support his ideology, it's intellectually dishonest to associate, however tenuously, today's scientific community with Nazism. Too often in today's public discourse, people feel it's not enough merely to assert that their ideological opponent is wrong -- they must also claim he's evil. This is shameless demagoguery, and it's not persuasive or constructive.

Check out the reviews.

Expelled on RT has corralled the available reviews of Expelled. They are harsh. Now, it is not clear to me that movie reviewers are notably different from Hollyweird in general so you might take the reviews with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Great Off-Ramp of Evolution

The Australian has a story about research coming out of Argentina that suggests that Neandertals were not part of modern human ancestry:

The team [led by Rolando Gonzalez-Jose of the Patagonian National Centre at Puerto Madryn, Argentina] goes back over the same well-known set of specimens, but uses a different analytical approach, focusing on a set of fundamental, yet long-term, changes in skull shape. They took 3D images of the casts of 17 hominid specimens, and from a gorilla, chimpanzee and Homo sapiens. These were crunched through a computer model to compare four variables; the skull's roundness and base, the protrusion of the jaw, and facial retraction, or position of the face relative to the cranial base.

That is a pretty bald conclusion based on four variables, when there are over 60 that can be taken on the head alone. It sounds like they have used prosthion radius and a few other ones--don't know what "roundness and base" are. Time to pick up the paper.

Friday, May 02, 2008

What did the Old Man Eat?

According to Eurekalert, Peter Ungar, Fred Grine and Mark Teaford are arguing that Australopithecus/Paranthropus boisei did not have a hard nut-based diet after all.

The findings showed that P. boisei teeth had light wear, suggesting that none of the individuals ate extremely hard or tough foods in the days leading up to death. The pattern was more consistent with modern-day fruit-eating animals than with most modern-day primates.

"It looks more like they were eating Jell-O," Ungar said.

Hey, it killed the dinosaurs didn't it?