Monday, September 29, 2008

Oktar Offers Prize for Evidence of Evolution

Turkish creationist Adnan Oktar has offered a prize of ten trillion (that's 10 zeroes!) Turkish Lira for fossil evidence of evolution. That's over 8 trillion US dollars (we're still talking nine zeroes here!). The story notes:

Mr Oktar, 52, who successfully campaigned for Mr Dawkins' official website to be banned in Turkey, has said he will give 10 trillion Turkish lira, roughly equal to £4.4trn "to anyone who produces a single intermediate-form fossil demonstrating evolution."

Mr Oktar is a household name in Turkey after publishing hundreds of books, pamphlets and DVDs to contest Darwin's theory of evolution.

Using the pen name Harun Yahya, his book The Atlas Of Creation sold 10,000 copies worldwide.

The 800-page book detailed his claims that for millions of years life forms have not developed, thus supporting his Islamic creationist beliefs

Here's why this reward will go unclaimed: as with Kent Hovind before him, any evidence of evolution he will simply dismiss as being unconvincing. He will claim that the intermediates are simply aberrant animals of one kind of another.

The author's website is a breathtaking journey inside rampant enthusiasm and boundless ego. In the "About the author" section, I counted no less than 49 pictures of the author in various "Joe Cool" poses. Nowhere, however, are there guidelines for the challenge (if I missed 'em, please let me know). At least Dr. Dino gave guidelines, even if no one could satisfy them. Kent Hovind is, by the way, in prison for tax evasion.

Of Oktar's Atlas of Creation, Richard Dawkins said this: "I am at a loss to reconcile the expensive and glossy production values of this book with the breathtaking inanity of the content."

More Controversy Surrounding Toumai

Expatica has an article which details the new round of name-calling with regard to the fossil known as Toumai. The article notes:

Toumai's big defender is French palaeontologist Michel Brunet, a professor at the prestigious College de France, who says Toumai walked the Earth shortly after chimpanzees and hominids diverged from a common ancestral primate. Brunet has been roundly attacked in other quarters. Critics are incensed that he has given a hominid honorific (Sahelanthropus tchadensis) to a creature whose cranium, in their view, was too squashed to be that of a pre-cursor of Homo sapiens.

There are many other problems, apparently, including provenance. Without that, your arguments are pretty much without merit. In another situation, Günter Bräuer dated the Eliye Springs cranium using morphological criteria to around 140-170 kya, when in fact, it was eroding out of a river bank. Sometimes, you just don't know. Read the whole thing.

Deeply Ingrained...

So, I am sitting in my Sunday School class, which is on parenting and we are discussing the roles of men and women. Then this verse popped up:

11 Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. (Genesis 1: 11-13, NIV)

Then one of my friends piped up: "That is so great because it just invalidates evolution."

Eh? What was that? How does it do that, exactly? Sensing that the true focus of the class was not the E/C controversy, and in a moment of true cowardice, I said nothing but sadly shook my head. My minister said, at that point, "well, Jim, I know you think differently," at which point, I said "I'm not saying a word." The uncomfortable moment passed and we went about our business. It reminded me, though, how deeply ingrained this teaching is. My friend has no biology training or background. She is just regurgitating what she has been taught.

On the other hand, my minister did approach me afterward and said that he would like to sit down and talk with me about the subject. That might be promising. We shall see...

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Sneer Review: "Darwin Exposed."

This came up a bit back and now dovetails nicely into the post on Harun Yahya. It is a "letter" from Charles Darwin to Adolf Hitler and points out some of the problems that seem to get missed along the way.

How The University Came To Be

The Times Higher Education Supplement has a newsletter called the Poppletonian, run by Laurie Taylor. In this week's release, she has the following:

The great evolution versus intelligent design debate surfaced on our campus last week following the publication of the vice-chancellor's letter to new students. In his letter, the v-c repeatedly informed his readers that the present Poppleton University was the product of strategic planning by superior beings in management.

This was too much for Professor K.W. Proudfoot of our Biology for Business Department. In a long article published on his website, he insisted that all the empirical evidence pointed to the critical role of evolution in the formation of the present university. "Only random mutations could possibly explain the appearance and rapid expansion of such previously unknown species as the Employability Strategy Committee and the Centre for Blended and Digitally Enhanced Learning. No one looking at these grotesque new mutations could believe they were the product of intelligent design by anyone, let alone a Supreme Being."

What do you think? Join the debate at

I laughed for five minutes. A trip to yields exactly what you would expect.

Harun Yahya: All Terrorists are Darwinists

Der Spiegel has interviewed Harun Yahya, a.k.a. Adnan Oktar, the prominent Muslim creationist. The opening question about why scientists accept evolution yields the stock creationist answer and goes unchallenged:

Adnan Oktar: First of all, there are 100 million fossils that prove creation. And these have never changed in any respect. For example, fish have always been fish, shrimp have always been shrimp, and crabs have always been crabs. And their fossils are on display in every corner of the world. We displayed them in Turkey as well, and people saw them with their own eyes. First and foremost, this is a clear proof. Secondly, in contrast to creation, Darwinism does not have a single piece of evidence demonstrating the theory of evolution. Its proponents don’t have any fossil evidence, of the kind which they should be able to put forward.

Sitting here looking at Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why Its Important, and having just read Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, I find such statements amazing. That people take this kind of statement seriously is, perhaps, even more so. He rattles the ID cages as well:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How much were you influenced by Christian movements, the so-called intelligent design movements in Europe and the United States?

Oktar: I find the concept of intelligent design rather dishonest. One should openly stand up for the existence of Allah, should sincerely stand up for religion, for Islam. Or, if one is a Christian, one should honestly stand up for Christianity. This is a theory which claims that things have somehow been created, but it is unknown who created them. I find this rather dishonest, actually. The followers of intelligent design should openly and clearly declare the existence of Allah as the Creator.

Aside from the lack of a theoretical construct, this is the other elephant in the room at the Discovery Institute: that the universe shows design in places, we're just not saying who did it. Such wishy-washiness is what led to Pastafarianism. His take on terrorism is a peculiar bend of honest Islam and creationism:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you really think that someone like Osama bin Laden, who justifies terrorist acts using the Koran and the alleged ungodliness of the west, is following Darwinist ideas?

Oktar: Things are not what they seem to be. You do not see that appearance and style in such people in their youth. Yet, when their actual faith is scrutinized, it emerges that they are genuine materialists and Darwinists. It is impossible for a person who fears Allah to commit terrorist acts because of his faith. Such acts are committed by people who were educated abroad, who received a Darwinist education and who internalized Darwinism, but who later called themselves Muslims. When scrutinized carefully, when their speech and essays are carefully analyzed, we see that all these people are Darwinists.

It is unfortunate that the Der Spiegel interviewer was not equipped to (or chose not to) counter Oktar on his understanding of the fossil record (or his lack of understanding, thereof). Whether you are reading Phillip Johnson or Harun Yahya, that is where the wheels typically fall of. Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Roger Ebert on Creationism

Roger Ebert has branched out in a column for the Chicago Tribune on creationism. It has been called satire by at least one writer and, one suspects, Ebert wrote it to expose the truly strange perspectives of the YEC group. He lets the facade slip once:

Q. What about bones representing such species as Cro-Magnon Man and Neanderthal Man?

A. Created at the same time as man. They did not survive. In fact, all surviving species and many others were created fully formed at the same time. At that moment they were of various ages and in varying degrees of health. Some individuals died an instant later, others within seconds, minutes or hours.

This is an odd combination of "appearance of age" and the standard YEC arguments. I did rather enjoy his comment on the moose, which has been said to be a criticism of Sarah Palin's moose hunting:

Q. Why would God create such an absurd creature as a moose?

A. In charity, we must observe that the moose probably does not seem absurd to itself.

Ebert's original column on Sarah Palin is here. In some senses he reminds me of the late film critic Pauline Kael, who is reported to have said, when Richard Nixon was elected president "How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon!" Nixon won the popular vote by over 23 percentage points. The venom against Sarah Palin seems to emanate from journalists and (now) film critics. They don't understand how anyone could like Sarah Palin because, like most of us at one point or another, they are prone to group think. Most of the people that I speak to about it feel fine about her or don't have much of an opinion.

A moose bit my sister once...

Texas Fights Back

According to Education Week, a review committee of teachers and academics has drafted proposals that would remove the "strengths and weaknesses"language in the Texas science standards. The article goes on to note:

Proposals released Tuesday from review committees of teachers and academics would also put up roadblocks for teachers who want to discuss creationism or "intelligent design" in biology classes when covering the subject of evolution.

The biology review committee proposed language that states supernatural and religious-based concepts such as creationism have no place in science classes.

The standards are subject to approval by the state Board of Education, where a majority of members have said they are in favor of retaining the current mandate to cover both strengths and weaknesses of major scientific theories, notably evolution.

The problem that I have always had with this kind of language, echoed by Kenneth Miller, is that it is squarely aimed at evolution and was drafted by self-admitted creationists, both in Texas and in Louisiana. An intellectually honest approach would be to apply those standards to all of science. Oh wait! That's what science does already. Predictably, there is opposition:

State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, said Tuesday he will oppose the recommendation.

"I like the present language on strengths and weaknesses," said McLeroy, who describes himself as a creationist. "This is something we've been doing for over 20 years in Texas, and we should keep doing it."

He said the theory of evolution has "plenty of weaknesses."

Somewhere in there it needs to be mentioned that Dr. McLeroy is a dentist and has no advanced training in the biological sciences. That's a nice way of saying he has no idea what he's talking about.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Where There is no Separation...

Sometimes there is something to be said for how our founding fathers set things up. The Guardian reports from Turkey where:

A Turkish court has banned internet users from viewing the official Richard Dawkins website after a Muslim creationist claimed its contents were defamatory and blasphemous. Adnan Oktar, who writes under the pen name of Harun Yahya, complained that Dawkins, a fierce critic of creationism and intelligent design, had insulted him in comments made on forums and blogs. According to Oktar's office, Istanbul's second criminal court of peace banned the site earlier this month on the grounds that it "violated" Oktar's personality.

I am not sure how such comments would have violated his "personality." Does he not walk, talk and smile with it? Oktar (who goes by the pen name of Harun Yahya), if you will recall, was the brainchild behind the Atlas of Creation, the 750 page tome that magically began to show up on the doorsteps of schools as far away as Scotland. In a lot of ways, this is no different than the tactics of the creationists in this country. When they can't produce the science, they try other routes.

Chicago Rabbis Back Teaching of Evolution

The Chicago Tribune reports on a letter drafted by David Oler in Deerfield that supports the teaching of evolution in public schools. The story relates the reaction of other rabbis:

Seeing evidence of the divine in the theories of Charles Darwin meant that [David] Gerson did not hesitate to sign an open letter drafted by a suburban Chicago rabbi this summer supporting the teaching of evolution in public schools. The two-paragraph letter, written by Rabbi David Oler of Congregation Beth Or in Deerfield, has attracted 235 signatures since its completion in July, with Jewish leaders from across the United States supporting its cause.

The effort, Oler said, spun off from the Clergy Letter Project, launched in 2004 by Michael Zimmerman, now the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis. Zimmerman asked Christian clergy to draft an open letter, since signed by 11,000 religious leaders, supporting the public teaching of evolution and emphasizing that religion does not have to be an enemy of science.

One wonders what other Jewish leaders around the country think. That Rabbis around the country are backing a Judaism/evolution reconciliation, though, was earlier evidenced by their loud denunciation of Expelled! It is interesting that, despite their comraderie in other areas, it appears that evangelical Christians and Jews are lining up on opposite sides of this issue.

Carol Hunt on ID and Evolution

Carol Hunt has written a piece on the climate of evolution that is alluded to in Kenneth Miller's new book Only a Theory. She alone seems to have understood exactly what Michael Reiss said about teaching creationism:

Earlier last week, the UK media pounced on comments made by Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society -- one of the world's oldest existing scientific organisations -- and forced his resignation.

Seemingly, the poor misguided man -- a biologist and a Church of England minister -- said that teachers should take the time in science class to explain why creationism had no scientific basis. So what's wrong with that? Plenty, screamed his colleagues. Why not spend time explaining why Bertrand Russell's teacup isn't actually orbiting Venus? Or why the flying spaghetti monster isn't living on Mars? A journalist from the Observer pointed out: "The prospect of such ignorance spreading to Britain quite rightly appalls scientists."

She has taken a somewhat jaundiced view of the new ID movement, arguing:

There has never been a better time to promote nonsensical and dangerous claptrap and get away with it, because we are all so afraid of "offending" other people's religious and cultural sensibilities. Moral, cultural and scientific relativism is in, and validated; empirical "truth" is out.

Today everyone is allowed to be an expert, as long as they "believe" in what they are saying. Gut feeling is everything, and to hell with the experts. So what if the scientists tell us that creationism -- or its well-dressed first cousin, Intelligent Design -- is not supported by any evidence whatsoever and therefore as likely to be as real as the Tooth Fairy?

And, with today's instant communication, it takes minutes to find other like-minded souls who also believe incredible things before breakfast.

Get enough people believing in Thetans or aliens or spaghetti monsters or whatever, and soon you can tout for cash -- or votes.

She is likely correct. Kenneth Miller argues that, until the ID movement came about, science was able to practice in an apolitical environment. By attaching anti-religiosity to the science of evolution, the movement has gained momentum. Whether this will work in ID's favor in the long run remains to be seen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

National Geographic Neandertal Model

National Geographic Magazine has created a model of a Neandertal woman in time for the October issue. According to the press release:

With a beetle-browed stare, the red-haired, pale-skinned Neanderthal woman gazes from the October cover of National Geographic magazine across the millennia. Affectionately known as "Wilma," the life-size, 5-foot-tall, heavily muscled model is the first ever reconstruction of a Neanderthal using evidence from fossil anatomy and ancient DNA preserved in cannibalized bones.

Wilma was commissioned by National Geographic to illustrate an article in the October 2008 issue, "Last of the Neanderthals," which explores what caused these hominids who dominated Eurasia for more than 200,000 years to vanish in the Ice Age, while our modern human ancestors survived.

A tad sensationalized, of course, but it is nice that they are getting more positive notice. It seems as though people only use the term Neandertal to mean an ignoramus.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More on the Vatican Congress

There is another large story on the Vatican Congress over at Panda's Thumb. They also dissect PZ Myers' views on the congress.

Vatican Shuts out Creationists, ID Supporters

The Vatican is hosting a congress on evolution, science and faith and are, according to the story in the Catholic News Service, excluding supporters of ID and recent earth creationism. The story notes:

Jesuit Father Marc Leclerc, a philosophy professor at the Gregorian, told Catholic News Service Sept. 16 that organizers "wanted to create a conference that was strictly scientific" and that discussed rational philosophy and theology along with the latest scientific discoveries.

He said arguments "that cannot be critically defined as being science, or philosophy or theology did not seem feasible to include in a dialogue at this level and, therefore, for this reason we did not think to invite" supporters of creationism and intelligent design.

While it has always been the catholic position that evolution be treated as science, this takes the form of institutional support. It also follows on the heals of the Methodists' declaration that they would not support teaching either creationism or ID in the public schools. The vast majority of evangelicals still lean the other way and this will startle more than a few people.

Reiss Resigns from Royal Society

You knew this was coming. Michael Reiss, the professor of education who made waves by hinting that teaching creationism was not a bad thing has resigned. The story relates:

The Royal Society announced Reiss's resignation in a statement today. It said: "Some of Professor Michael Reiss's recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society's Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society's reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as director of education."

I am not sure what is more disturbing about this. The fact that he was clearly misquoted by people who should have known better and resigned in spite of that or the fact that the Royal Society felt that even the hint of creationism was enough to damage its reputation. The society should simply have issued a statement saying that the esteemed professor firmly believes that creationism is without merit but that it needs to be addressed on some level. I don't know anyone who follows this debate who doesn't think that. This is also a stark reminder of how wrong the media gets things, even when they know the whole story. This is why I get my news from blogs these days.

Only in Berkeley

Well, Berkeley has outdone itself. The Judah Magnes museum has erected a temple to science. The press announcement goes like this:

Four millennia after Abraham fathered Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and 150,000 years after hominids introduced burial rituals to the Mediterranean, religion will finally be made compatible with science on September 27, 2008. From that day forward, a two-story downtown Berkeley building dubbed the Atheon will provide a spiritual home for rational people in California, and guidance to acolytes worldwide.

Establishment of an Atheon has been a high priority in the scientific community for the past several years, rivaling even enthusiasm for the new Large Hadron Collider. "When you listen to people like Nobel-laureate cosmologist Steven Weinberg, or Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, you hear a lot of talk about how god-based religion is out-of-date," says conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, founder of the Atheon. "The leading minds believe that science can and should provide a spiritually satisfying replacement. But until recently no one bothered to consider what form that alternative might take."

It gets better. There is a song composed for the temple. According to the story:

The song composed for the Atheon is equally scientific, a canon for three cosmic voices titled "Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?" The canon is comprised of sounds pulsating through several hypothetical universes as well as our own living cosmos, musically arranged by Mr. Keats using audio files produced by University of Virginia astronomer Mark Whittle. According to Mr. Keats, "these universes don't provide any answers. If people are to find spirituality in science, it's likely to be by immersing themselves in questions."

That's great. A place for people to go and ask "why am I here?" and get no answer. I get the same thing from Zombocom. This is EXACTLY what science isn't: a world view. Science is a means by which we examine the world and try to understand how it works. It has no power to provide a worldview. As far as rivaling the enthusiasm of the LHC, that is overreaching of the highest order. I was aware of the LHC for months ahead of its powering up. I heard about this nonsense only because I prowl the airwaves for things like this. The Atheon web site is here. If you find something other than a late 60s tie-dyed pattern, let me know. Sheer silliness that only Berkeley can provide.
I am avoiding stories about Sarah Palin since it would take too long to debunk most of them and the level of vitriol is very high. An example of this would be Josh Rosenau's article on "Palin-spastic." On to other things.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The "Tuscan Swamp Ape"

No, it is not another Bigfoot, it is an ape that appears to have gone extinct toward the end of the Miocene, around 5.5 mya and went by the name of Oreopithecus (which Fred Smith used to call "the cookie monster"). According to the story in Life in Italy:

It had a small head and large eyes, and its teeth indicate it lived on a diet of berries, fruits and vegetables. Crucially, it also had hands capable of manipulation similar to that of a human being. According to Rook, it had more dexterity than any ape alive today and could handle objects with the same precision that was formerly thought to be the exclusive capability of homo sapiens and their direct ancestors. The Swamp Ape evolved in isolation from other animals on the tropical island, where it appeared to have had no natural predators. However, as sea levels fell with the Ice Age, a land bridge appeared, bringing with it dangerous new species, including large predators, which eventually wiped out the Swamp Ape.

Convergent evolution. I love it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Top Scientist: Teach Creationism

The Daily Mail is reporting on Michael Reiss, Director of Education for the Royal Society, who is now arguing that creationism should be taught along science in schools. They write:

Children should be taught about creationism in school biology lessons, a leading scientist said today. Professor Reiss, a Church of England minister and former biology teacher, said he strongly believed in teaching the theory of evolution to children.

But rather than dismiss creationism as wrong or stupid, teachers should be prepared to discuss it as another 'worldview'. 'It arises from my time as a biology teacher in schools when I realise that simply banging on about evolution didn’t lead some pupils to change their views at all,' he said. 'I had previously been rather evangelical about teaching evolution, trying to change pupil’s minds. 'Now I would be rather more content simply for them to understand it as one way of understanding the universe.'

Or is he? Later in the same article, we find:

But Professor Reiss added: 'Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis.

'However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis.

It is amazing what a sensationalistic headline will get you. What he says in the second quote is the kicker. If you teach creationism in the public schools, it will be exposed for the scientific fraud that it is. Will it change minds? Who knows.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Creation Moments

Anonymous has left a comment on the "Sarah Palin and Creationism" post. Next time I am not going to post something unless they are willing to identify themselves. It is like knocking on someone's door with a bag over your head. Anyway, he/she lists several links in the comment which I would like to address. The first one is to a page called "Teaching Evolution: Is there a Better way?" The opening paragraph states:

Today's public school textbooks on Biology, Earth sciences, and Human society generally well-present the facts; it is the interpretation of those facts that is currently under fire and is being openly questioned. Without exception, that interpretation is from the evolutionary perspective and serves to colour the very words that are used in the text. Textbooks on Human anthropology are notoriously bad in this repect [sic].

Currently under fire and openly questioned? Other than the ICR and like organizations, who is doing the questioning? How are textbooks on human anthropology (I assume they mean human palaeontology) notoriously bad in this regard? Mr. Taylor does not say. A bit later, he writes:

For example, the octopus eye and the human eye are very similar yet these are not regarded as homologous because the octopus and the human are not believed to have a common ancestor. But, having decided that two similar-looking limbs are homologous, it is then argued that this similarity proves their common ancestry! This is nothing more than circular reasoning.

How is this circular reasoning? The reason they are homologous is that they are made up of the same anatomical parts and embryologic studies show that they develop the same way. Structures are analogous if they do not derive from the same anatomical parts. That is evolution 101. This passage shows that Mr. Taylor knows little about how homology works.

In the second link, Should Evolution be Immune from Criticism?, the author David Buckna, writes:

One popular biology textbook used in public schools is "Inquiry Into Life" by Sylvia Mader, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. On page 529 (eighth edition) are diagrams of giraffes which compare Lamarck's theory and Darwin's theory. According to Darwin, "Early giraffes probably had necks of various lengths. Natural selection due to competition led to survival of the longer-necked giraffes and their offspring. Eventually, only long-necked giraffes survived the competition."

Regarding giraffes, shouldn't students be taught to distinguish between fact and speculation? No fossil evidence has ever been unearthed showing giraffes with shorter necks.

Yeah it has. Here is a pair of articles detailing it. Here is another comment:

It's certainly easy enough for evolutionists to pick out something and call it a "giraffe" and thus generate an ancestor for giraffes. Carroll illustrates a marvelous example of how other ancestors are generated: He suggested that the wolf-like Mesonychus (which he believes was the terrestrial ancestor of whales) should be placed in the Order Cetacea. Since the Order Cetacea is reserved for whales, presto! Mesonychids are whales!

This is just silly. Mesonychus has characteristics in the inner ear and orbital construction that are similar to whales to the exclusion of other animals. That is why researchers draw similarities.

I would comment on the third article but it couldn't be found on the link provided and I don't have time to go hunting for it. The fourth article, Teaching Origins in Public Schools takes a different approach: teach evolution and then pick out the holes in it. He then lists several criticism of evolution that would come out during teaching. I don't have time to go through them all but, for example, he writes:

Evolution is necessarily speculative:

Every science is necessarily speculative. That is how science proceeds, by speculation and then hypothetical testing. This is a non-criticism.

It behooves the teacher to fairly distinguish fact from speculation in any discussion of evolution as this will not always be obvious to the student. Even the term "theory" ought to be strictly limited to those hypotheses which are subject to the scientific method and thus are capable of being disproven by a critical experiment.

This shows a lack of understanding of what a theory is and how it is differentiated from a hypothesis. A theory is a broad statement of relationships about a particular set of phenomena. Quantum theory and gravitational theory are classic examples. A hypothesis is simply a test of a particular question that falls within that overall theoretical construct.

Evolution seems incompatible with the second law of thermodynamics:

Perhaps the reason that there is so little compelling scientific evidence in support of evolution is that it appears to contradict one of the most fundamental laws of nature - the second law of thermodynamics. This law says what is intuitively obvious to most people, that all real processes tend toward a condition of greater probability and disorder. Thus a house is more likely to spontaneously disassemble over a period of a thousand years than it is to assemble itself into an even more complex and more highly organized structure. Order can be achieved out of disorder, but it requires information, programs, energy and machines. Energy from the sun can help to transform an acorn into an oak tree but it requires the indescribably complex biological machinery and information in the living cells of the acorn to do it. Dead oak trees are destroyed by the same energy from the sun.

It is also intuitively obvious that, were the sun to simply disappear, we would survive about a day. Kelvin made his statements in the 1870s before anyone was aware that radioactivity was what was responsible for the internal heating of the earth and it was not until Einstein came along that we had some idea of why the sun has burned as long as it has (Harter 2005).

The other examples betray evidence of quote mining. This is the trick of misquoting authors to get them to say what you want them to say. There is a great page on TalkOrigins that lists the most egregious examples. So, once again, it is a case of creationist' half-truths, quote mines and out-dated information that has become standard and reveals, again, why no one in the scientific community takes them seriously.

I obviously didn't take time to address all of the concerns of anonymous but if you do a peripheral search of the literature, all of the comments made in the articles have been repeatedly rebutted in different places. Go to Talk Origins for good bibliographies of these.

Monday, September 08, 2008

"Strengths and Weaknesses"

The Eugene Register-Guard has an editorial on the growth in popularity of the phrase "strengths and weaknesses" with regard to teaching evolution. Written anonymously (maddeningly), the author notes:

It is the quintessential irony that nothing has evolved more conspicuously than the strategies creationists keep devising to challenge evolution, which has been accurately characterized as “the organizing principle of life science.”

Ample evidence of this exists, of course. One such example is the pre-Edwards vs. Aguilard text of Of Pandas and People and the post decision text, which had substituted the word "creationist" with the words "Design Proponents." The author also points out the hypocrisy in these movements:

Ever the trailblazer for pioneering new methods to legitimize injecting religion into science classrooms, the Texas State Board of Education is again considering a science curriculum that teaches the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. Not creationism or intelligent design, just “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.

This needs to be pointed out more often.

Sarah Palin, Creationism and AIG

Answers in Genesis wants to know if Sarah Palin is a creationist. In a recent article, they address this question and conclude with a resounding "maybe."

In 2006, then-candidate Palin indicated in a TV debate that creation should be taught alongside evolution in the state’s public schools, declaring that schools should “teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.”3 Now, in stating this, she may have been advocating the teaching of scientific creationism, as opposed to biblical creationism4 (the latter having been deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 19875), but we don’t really know.

They also note that she backpedaled on this the following day by stating that she:

...meant to say that a discussion of alternative views should be allowed but not forced on students, adding: “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.

They then make the following (correct) observation about politicians:

Most politicians, when asked about their origins beliefs, try to answer somewhere between the two bookends, settling into a comfortable place in between so as not to alienate those who believe in a Creator (the overwhelming majority of Americans) while protecting themselves from allegations that they reject mainstream science. We recall that in 2007, Republican candidate for president Gov. Mike Huckabee put up his hand during a debate to show that he did not believe in evolution. Some creationists quickly rejoiced, concluding that Mr. Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, must believe in a literal, straightforward reading of Genesis. Later, however, he made it clear that he did not necessarily want to be identified with young-earth creationism, saying that he was not sure about a six-day creation.

That's as true as it goes but they then go on to say something somewhat startling:

Gov. Palin’s clarification of her views on the teaching of origins in public schools mirrors AiG’s general view: biblical creation should not be forced into classrooms, specifically because science teachers with a strong belief in evolution would teach creation poorly, so it would ultimately be counterproductive for the students. The better tactic would be to follow through on the Supreme Court’s ruling that teachers are “free to teach any and all facets” of all the scientific theories concerning the origins of humankind (p. 9 of the ruling).

I suspect they are taking liberties with the "teaching creation poorly" part, since we have no idea why she doesn't want to force creationism on the public schools. Although this tact will open up creationist teaching to a level of scrutiny it has not, as of yet, had, this somewhat subtler approach dovetails directly into the recent spate of "academic freedom" bills that have been passed.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Movement of the Human Race

The Guardian has a story (originally from the Observer) covering a study done to sequence the genetic make-up of over 250 000 volunteers. They write:

Scientists have known for several years that modern humans emerged from sub-Saharan Africa within the past 100,000 years. However, the £25m Genographic project - backed by National Geographic, IBM and the Waitt Family Foundation - has recently transformed that knowledge by painting in a mass of highly detailed information about our African exodus.

After emerging into the Arabian peninsula, some of our ancestors took sea routes along the south Asian coast to reach Australia 50,000 years ago. Only later, about 40,000 years ago, did we enter Europe - its cold and its Neanderthals making it far less hospitable - while one group of Asians headed farther east over the land bridge that then connected their continent to America.

Such stories sort of gloss over the possible contributions of archaic Homo sapiens' genes to the early modern migrants, an issue hotly debated in palaeoanthropology circles. More to come, I hope.

Reevaluation of the Palau Small-Bodied Human Remains: "Berger Got It Wrong."

Science Daily is reporting on a study done by archaeologists from three different universities, University of Oregon, North Carolina State University and the Australian National University, who claim that Lee Berger's contention that the Palau remains are those of primitive, dwarf-sized humans is in error:

"Our evidence indicates the earliest inhabitants of Palau were of normal stature, and it counters the evidence that Berger, et al, presented in their paper indicating there was a reduced stature population in early Palau," said University of Oregon anthropologist Greg C. Nelson. "Our research from whole bones and whole skeletons indicates that the earliest individuals in Palau were of normal stature but gracile. In other words, they were thin."

They are also scathing on Berger's overall work in this area:

"I think Berger's primary mistakes were his not understanding the variation in the skeletal population in which he was working, using fragmentary remains again in a situation where he didn't understand variation, and stepping outside his own area of expertise, which, I think all scientists try not to do but sometimes we do," Nelson said.

"One of his biggest mistakes was rushing to publish," Nelson said of Berger. "He did not take the time to understand the area in which he was working -- its entire history, not just the skeletal stuff," he said. "Any time you work anywhere, you have to understand this history. You just can't walk in and cowboy it, pull some stuff out and draw conclusions in the absence of understanding the bigger picture."

One suspects that there is more here than meets the eye between these two groups of researchers. Berger has yet to respond and this story does not mention the evidence corroborating Berger's contentions from the island of Flores, although one suspects that this group will turn its attention to those remains now.
Well, its plain and simple that I am not going to get anything other than Sarah Palin stories today. It is either the Palin "media mayhem" or "Palinsanity," take your pick. I will try to find the most interesting ones.

Update: Well I was wrong. See the above post.

Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin and Creationism

According to a story in the Minnesota Independent, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has publicly backed Sarah Palin's ideas of teaching creationism even as she was downplaying it. Not a smart move. The story notes:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty came to the aid of Gov. Sarah Palin on Sunday on the issue of teaching creationism (aka “intelligent design”) in the classroom. While he stopped short of endorsing a mandated “God created the world in 7 days 10,000 years ago” curriculum, he said he agreed with the theory that evangelical Christians tout as a replacement for evolutionary theory.

He said that Palin’s comments about teaching creationism were “appropriate,” then said it’s up to local school boards to decide, then added that he personally supports creationism.

The article recounts an interview with Pawlenty and Tom Brokaw in which Brokaw sets him up with a question that is at the heart of the whole problem:

MR. BROKAW: In the vast scientific community, do you think that Creationism has the same weight as evolution, and at a time in American education when we are in a crisis when it comes to science, that there ought to be parallel tracks for Creationism versus evolution in the teaching?

GOV. PAWLENTY: In the scientific community, it seems like intelligent design is dismissed — not entirely, there are a lot of scientists who would make the case that it is appropriate to be taught and appropriate to be demonstrated, but in terms of the curriculum in the schools in Minnesota, we’ve taken the approach that that’s a local decision. I know Senator Palin — or Governor Palin — has said intelligent design is something that she thinks should be taught along with evolution in the schools, and I think that’s appropriate. My personal view is that’s a local decision –

Governor Pawlenty doesn't blow the question completely but reveals that he doesn't quite know what ID is. I suspect that Sarah Palin doesn't either.

The Republicans need to bury this issue and bury it fast if they want to have a hope of winning the election. What was a non-issue two elections back is fast becoming one and the Democrats are smart to play it to the hilt. As the discrepancy between the US and other nations in science education becomes more acute, the Republicans will look more medieval as time goes on. To many voters out there, that will look bad.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Fight Over Toumai

According to a story in Yahoo News, a ruckus has broken out over the Sahelanthropus tchadensis remains that were unearthed in 2001 in the Chad desert. The dispute seems to focus on whether or not the cranium, known as Toumai, dated to between 6.8 and 7.2 million years ago, can actually be dated at all. Although Michel Brunet, its most ardent defender believes the dates, the actual discoverer, Alain Beauvilain, is not so sure:

In general, radiodating of the sediment in which a fossil is found is considered to be a good guide to when the creature died, its remains eventually becoming covered by soil or other debris. But Beauvilain, a Chadian fossil expert of long standing, says that, contrary to Brunet's assertions that the fossil had been "unearthed," the cranium was found loose on the sand.

A thick blue ferruginous, or iron-based, mineral encrusted the skull, which showed clear signs of weathering from desert conditions, Beauvilain says in a commentary in the South African Journal of Science. Beauvilain says it is clear that the soil around the find, and possibly the find itself, had been shifted by wind or erosion, a phenomenon that can happen swiftly and frequently in the desert. So carbon-dating the soil and attributing that to the skull was a perilous exercise, he says. "How many times was it exposed and reburied by shifting sands before being picked up?".

This will obviously need to be cleared up. If that does not happen, Orrorin will rise to the occasion as the best stem hominid.

Sarah Palin and Creationism, Part II

One of the principle attacks against Sarah Palin as John McCain's choice for VP is her support of "alternative" theories about biological diversity. According to an AP article out today:

As a candidate for governor, Sarah Palin called for teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. But after Alaska voters elected her, Palin, now Republican John McCain's presidential running mate, kept her campaign pledge to not push the idea in the schools. As for her personal views on evolution, Palin has said, "I believe we have a creator." But she has not made clear whether her belief also allowed her to accept the theory of evolution as fact. "I'm not going to pretend I know how all this came to be," she has been quoted as saying.

If the left blows this up, you can be sure the news media will pick it up but I am guessing it is a non-starter.

Evolution vs. The Implications of Evolution

In a blog that is mostly political in nature, David Friedman asks some uncomfortable questions about two different groups of people, the right, who don't want the teaching of evolution, and the left, who don't understand the implications of it. He writes:

Consider the most striking case, the question of whether there are differences between men and women with regard to the distribution of intellectual abilities or behavioral patterns. That no such differences exist, or if that if they exist they are insignificant, is a matter of faith for many on the left. The faith is so strongly held that when the president of Harvard, himself a prominent academic, merely raised the possibility that one reason why there were fewer women than men in certain fields might be such differences, he was ferociously attacked and eventually driven to resign.

Yet the claim that such differences must be insignificant is one that nobody who took the implications of evolution seriously could maintain. We are, after all, the product of selection for reproductive success. Males and females play quite different roles in reproduction. It would be a striking coincidence if the distribution of abilities and behavioral patterns that was optimal for one sex turned out to also be optimal for the other, rather like two entirely different math problems just happening to have the same answer.

This spills over to physical constitution as well. Men expend energy differently than women do. Also, although there is tolerance in society for transsexuals and homosexuals, nature does not see it that way and they wind up being evolutionary dead-ends. Yet, no one speaks of this in academic circles. Read the whole thing.