Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Harun Yahya: Leader of the Turkish World

Arab News has their own take on Harun Yahya, otherwise known as Adnan Oktar, in a recent article. He has some "interesting" ideas. On Israel:

“The real problem in Israel lies in the fact that it is governed by atheist Zionists from behind the scenes. We have to get rid of these Masonic forces so that Muslims and Jews can govern it. Judaism is an old version of Islam. With the passage of time, it underwent a lot of distortions and changes. The true believers of Judaism are not the ones governing Israel now,” he pointed out.

Uh huh, right. On evolution:

A fierce opponent of Darwinism, Yahya takes the credit for defeating the theory of evolution. “First, we offered Darwinists around the world 100 million fossils, which prove that this world came into being as a result of God’s creationism and not because of evolution. Second, Darwin wrote in his books that people have to find transitional forms to prove the theory of evolution, but nobody has been able to find a single transitional form. Third, Darwinists claim that the first cell came into being as a coincidence. But it is impossible for even a single protein to be formed by chance. Fourth, we have proved that the skulls that were displayed as evidence of evolution are fake. Darwinism cannot explain how we can see or hear or sense with the support of our brain.”

Not sure what "defeat" he is talking about. Seems alive and well to me. The bit about transitional fossils is demonstrably false and the rest can be categorized as "rambling." There is also this nugget, apparently written by the author:

Polls conducted by newspapers in Germany, France, Switzerland and Denmark showed that 85-90 percent of Europeans no longer believed in the theory of evolution.

What polls is he talking about? Support for evolution is far more entrenched in these countries than in the United States even. I find it amazing when I read statements like these. It is as if they are walking through life with blinders on. Incredible!

The Reluctant Charles Darwin

The Star has a story on the Charles Darwin exhibit at the Natural History Museum. Written by Mitch Potter, the story begins:

LONDON–Wandering through this biggest-ever reappraisal of Charles Darwin, you do not get a sense that here lies the enemy of God. A doubter? Unquestionably. A man born to the clergy, yet one who lived in quiet agony as the evidence of science and the articles of faith did battle for decades between his ears? That too. And finally, a man so wary of societal outrage that he held his silence a full 22 years before reluctantly publishing the revolutionary theory that upended our understanding of the world.

Charles Darwin has been much maligned in creationist circles, all the way from claims that he was an atheist who reveled in upending religion to the "deathbed confession" to ties of his work to Hitler. Most of Darwin's work had nothing to do with humans and is almost pedestrian compared to the reputation he has garnered.

Honoring F. Clark Howell

UC Berkeley has put up a display honoring the work of F. Clark Howell, the "dean of African paleoanthropologists," who passed away last year. The article in Paleontology News notes:

"The most critical element to me in doing the project was to honor the memory of Clark Howell for inspiring generations of Berkeley students and for his lasting impact on the field of paleoanthropology," [Tim] White said. In 1970, Howell founded a laboratory that became the Human Evolution Research Center, which White now directs.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Increased Evolutionary Fitness by Throwing Stones?

The Hindustan Times reports on a study out of Bryn Mawr that suggests that Neandertals were out competed by early modern humans because they did not have the necessary anatomical specializations to throw heavy rocks or spears at prey. They write:

"If we're trying to understand whether anatomically modern humans had projectiles, then why not read the signature that it can imprint in the skeleton," Rhodes said.

Studies of elite handball and baseball players suggest that frequent overhand throwing from an early age permanently rotates the shoulder-end of the humerus toward an athlete's back, compared to people who haven't spent much time hurling.

This bone rotation only occurs in the throwing arm, so a difference between the right and left arm in fossils could be a sign of projectile use, according to Rhodes.

I would posit that pitchers are probably not the best model for this sort of analysis. They throw 90-mile an hour fastballs at a frequency (and speed) that far outstrips that of your average hunter-gatherer. Why not go after actual hunters and gatherers to see what sort of adaptations are present there? Further, there might be other factors that contribute to the anatomical discrepancies. Time to go read the article.

Rev. Michael Dowd: On the Road for God...and Evolution?

The Reverend Michael Dowd, who has a background as being a pastor for the United Church of Christ was interviewed in the Knoxville News Sentinel over the weekend. Dowd, who is on the road with his wife Connie to preach the cause of understanding God through science, wrote a book last year called Thank God for Evolution. He has this perspective:

"The primary way that reality is revealed is in facts - facts are God's native tongue. Now, when I see a new Hubble space photo or learn of a new fossil form, I don't think to myself as I used to, 'Oh no, how does this fit with Genesis?' I instead think, 'Look, how cool - look what God is revealing to us today."

Something rather striking is left out of the article on Rev. Dowd: he is a former young earth creationist. Something else has been left out: He has wandered rather far afield from that. From his book:

I cannot agree that “Jesus as God’s way, truth, and life” means that only those Christians who believe certain things about Jesus or the Bible get to go to a special otherworldly place called heaven when they die. I used to believe that, but I don’t anymore. In hindsight, I see that my old belief cheapened, belittled, and impoverished the universal glory of the Gospel. What Jesus’ life and ministry were actually about is far larger and more meaningful, and offers more this-world relevance, than my old clannish, contracted “we win, you lose” understanding. More, one need not be a Christian, nor ever have read the Bible, in order to walk what is, effectively, the same path we Christians aspire to—the same “one way”to a realized, redemptive life of fulfillment and service in this world, here and now, while simultaneously blessing future generations.

Funny, I don't remember reading that in the New Testament. Understanding and accepting evolution at the expense of your faith in Christ is no compromise. It is an abdication of one of the key principles of the Christian faith. Being inspired about science is great. Being uninspired about Jesus if you call yourself a Christian isn't. As Jonathan Dodson writes on his blog:

An essential claim of Christ is that the man and the world are broken because of sin, rebellion against God. Jesus seeks to redeem humanity and the world through his death and world-renewing return. However, he does not minimize his own sacrifice or teachings as optional. They are essential and joy-giving to those who embrace him.

Just because the biosphere has evolved over the course of the last 4.5 billion years does not mean that Jesus' teachings are not what they were or that He isn't what he is—the way, the truth and the life.

Jewish Leaders: No ID in Texas!

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has gotten in the game in Texas, arguing that ID should not be taught. Rabbi Ana Bonnheim had this to say:

For me as a rabbi, science and religion are not at odds … Moses Maimonides … who is perhaps the greatest philosopher of our tradition, was also a physician. He taught that scientific inquiry can lead to more thoughtful religious questions and better educated religious individuals. The place for the quiet discussions about spirituality in science is not in public schools but around the kitchen table, in religious school classrooms, or in a clergy member’s office.

“Sadly and painfully, my Jewish ancestors had a long history of persecution in places where there was no separation of church and state. When we permit religious beliefs to be taught in our state schools, we begin to blur the line that keeps religion and government separate. We are so fortunate to live in a country that respects individuals of all faiths. It is essential to maintain the boundaries that will protect religious groups of every faith

This won't help the board.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Another Christian/Scientist Speaks Out

TES Connect has a story on a theoretical astrophysicist by the name of David Wilkinson, who is also a Christian minister. He has this to say:

“I’m not a creationist,” he said.

“There are certain things about the universe - that the universe is intelligible to us through mathematics, or that the laws of physics are so beautiful - that raise philosophical and theological questions.

“Creationism says that Genesis is supposed to be read as a scientific textbook. But it’s primarily a theological text, explaining that God exists.

“If science has a gap in it, the temptation is to use God to fill that gap. But I see God working through the science of the Big Bang and the science of evolutionary biology, rather than through the gaps.”

Read the whole thing. Let our voices be heard!!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Evolution proponents descend on state education panel"

Support for the faculty and biology teachers certainly does not seem be wanting:

AUSTIN — Texas became the latest stage for the debate about evolution and creationism Wednesday, as more than 80 witnesses trooped before the State Board of Education to weigh in on proposed changes in the public school science curriculum.

With few exceptions, the speakers — scientists, teachers, clergy and grassroots activists — took the side of evolution, saying they feared that the proposed changes will open the door to the teaching of creationism or intelligent design.

Game on.

Americans United: Use Science Curriculum

As could be expected, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has weighed in on the Texas Science Standards. Barry Lynn also makes their position clear:

In its letter to the board, Americans United makes it clear that litigation may result if religious beliefs are introduced into public school science classrooms.

The board’s decision, which is expected to be made in March, could influence science instruction across the country. Texas is the second largest purchaser of textbooks, after California. To meet Texas standards, textbook producers may include creationist concepts in books that would circulate nationally.

This is, perhaps, true. We have certainly seen this in Louisiana and Pennsylvania. Furthermore, in Pennsylvania, the adoption of that ghastly textbook Of Pandas and People, clearly revealed the creationist bent of the DI. That lingers in many people's minds.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The New Texas Science Standards

Capitol Annex has gotten a hold of the November Draft of the new Texas science standards. As Eugenie Scott noted in her interview, the new standards are not as good as the ones written in September by the science community. Their analysis of the deleted paragraphs is very thorough, if a tad reactionary and there is not much to add here. In his despondency, though, the writer, Vince Leibowitz, gets several things wrong. The new standard for the nature of science states this:

Science is a way of describing and making testable predictions about the natural world. Scientific hypotheses are tentative and testable statements that must be capable of being supported or not supported by observational evidence. Hypotheses of durable explanatory power that have been tested over a wide variety of conditions become theories. Scientific theories must be based on natural and physical phenomena and be capable of being tested by multiple, independent researchers. Students should know that scientific theories, unlike hypotheses, are well-established and highly reliable, but that they may still be subject to change as new information and new technologies are developed. This vast body of changing and increasing knowledge is described by physical, mathematical, and conceptual models. Students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not scientifically testable.

(emphasis in original)

To this, he comments:

In other words, Jesus turned water in to wine, and God created the earth in six days and you can’t test that because it is not scientifically testable. Great.

The catch is that the last phrase about questions outside the realm of science was in the September standards and was part of the deleted paragraph. It seems to me that this new paragraph is no friend of creationism or ID, neither of which are testable. In some senses, this provides the "out" for science teachers—they can claim that ID is not testable and dispense with it forthwith. This can be done even before you get to the "strengths and weaknesses" language which, unfortunately, did get added. He also notes:

Scientific decision-making is a way of answering questions about the natural world. Students should understand that the nature of science is to seek patterns in nature through deliberate, objective collection and analysis of empirical data. Students should be able to distinguish between scientific decision-making methods (scientific methods) and ethical/social decisions that involve science (the application of scientific information).

“A way” of answering questions, but not “the way.” In other words, “The Bible,” is “the way,” but they can’t put that in “the standards,” so they leave the door open to make teaching the theory of evolution totally optional.

The original standards also clearly state, in section 2 that:

"Science is a way of learning about the natural world. Students should know how science has built a vast body of changing and increasing knowledge described by physical, mathematical, and conceptual models, and also should know that science may not answer all questions."

This does not represent a change in the standards, merely a condensation. I did not go through the rest of the standards to compare them in detail but it seems that if we want to criticize the education community, we need to get basic things right.

An Interview with Eugenie Scott

Capitol Annex has an interview with Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the NCSE about the new Texas science standards. She has this to say about "strengths and weaknesses:"

You don’t hear scientists talking about the strength and weaknesses of cell theory. ‘Strength and weakness’ are words that the public understands and it communicates that you are really being fair. But, if you go to a scientist, and say, ‘tell me about the weaknesses of evolution,’ they will look at you blankly. Go to McLeroy and say it, and he’ll haul out a list of very familiar creationist arguments. So, it is an old line in a new battle.

Questions about whether or not Homo habilis gave rise to Homo erectus/ergaster do not reflect a weakness in evolutionary theory. They reflect gaps in our knowledge about how it proceeded. About publishing standards, she has this to say:

...there is much more opportunity in the publishing industry because of digital layout for modular publications. In other words, it is possible to produce a textbook for the Texas market that nobody else would want to have because it is bad science. That is serious for you guys because if the [state] board says to the publishers, ‘you’ve got to put in a lot of bad science to sell books in Texas,’ the publishers might say, ‘well, we have to sell books in Texas,’ and put out a book with a lot of crappy science and that is the Texas edition. They’ll sell it here and nobody else will want it because it is crappy science.

That puts Texas students at a competitive disadvantage. The Texas science community–science professors–are unified, as we saw [with the study released yesterday]. We don’t argue over whether evolution took place, but this is what McLeroy wants to pretend to students is going on in the scientific community. He wants teachers to pretend to students that scientists argue over whether evolution happened. We argue how evolution happened–that’s good science–and that is not a weakness to us. To McLeroy, if scientists argue over whether dinosaurs are warm blooded or cold blooded, that is a weakness. That is just good, healthy science.

It is only that way because McLeroy knows nothing about science and how it works. As I said in an earlier post, it is amazing that someone so ignorant of basic science can have assumed so high a position in an education board, let alone be on it. His arguments, as well as those by Rob Crowther are, once again, examples of this "teach the controversy" strategy. They want to make it seem as though there are "weaknesses" (neither McLeroy or Crowther care about the "strengths" of the theory) and that students should know about them, whether they exist or not.

P.S. does Crowther really know what Michael Behe thinks about evolution? I Bet not.

ID in Australia

There is now fear that the new science curriculum being proposed in Australia may ban the teaching of ID altogether. A report in the Age states:

THE body representing Christian schools has expressed fears the unfinished national curriculum — which private schools will have to adopt as a condition of their Commonwealth funding — may ban the teaching of intelligent design.

The executive officer of the Australian Association of Christian Schools, Robert Johnston, said children should be encouraged to critique the science of evolution and he was worried the national curriculum could prevent schools from exploring alternative theories for the development of the universe.

Not sure what kind of evolution is being referred to here. ID doesn't address Big Bang cosmology directly, and biological evolution doesn't deal with origin of the universe questions. This may just be general unease. Won't know until more comes out.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Editorial: Board Should Listen to Scientists

The Corpus Christi Caller has an article here on the debate. Their perspective:

Members of the state Board of Education, as they prepare to establish a new science curriculum, should certainly heed the advice of the state's top science teachers: Teaching the "weaknesses" of the theory of evolution raises questions about its validity, questions that are not shared by established science. Public schools should teach evolution. Period. Texas students will have to compete in the real world, not the flat earth of the past.

Texas Responds to the Survey

The Houston Chronicle has released a story on the survey (see post below) and how it has affected Texans in general.

Texas Survey Draws Fire From Discovery Institute

The Discovery Institute has released a post in response to a survey that was done by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. The press release on the survey can be found here. It says in part:

The TFN Education Fund conducted the survey in conjunction with Dr. Raymond Eve, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Arlington in early 2008. The survey went to the 1,019 biologists and biological anthropologists on the faculty of all 35 public and the 15 largest private colleges and universities in Texas. An astonishing 45 percent of science faculty from 49 of those institutions responded to the survey, said Prof. Eve.

“Many of these science faculty members almost certainly help determine who gets into our state’s colleges and universities,” Eve said. “Their responses should send parents a clear message that those who want to play politics with science education are putting our kids at risk.”

The survey, which can be found here, revealed the following:

1. Texas scientists (97.7 percent) overwhelmingly reject “intelligent design” as valid science.

2. Texas science faculty (95 percent) want only evolution taught in science classrooms.

3. Scientists reject teaching the so-called “weaknesses” of evolution, with 94 percent saying that those arguments are not valid scientific objections to evolution.

4. Science faculty believe that emphasizing “weaknesses” of evolution would substantially harm students’ college readiness (79.6 percent) and ability to compete for 21st-century jobs (72 percent).

5. Scientists (91 percent) strongly believe that support for evolution is compatible with religious faith.

The results from the respondents was reasonably clear: they don't want to teach ID because they don't think that it is science. Rob Crowther of The Discovery Institute, which lives and dies with Intelligent Design, took issue with this and released a rather blustery response:

The liberal Darwin lobby group Texas Freedom Network has just published a push-poll of scientists titled, "Survey of Texas Faculty: Overwhelming Opposition to Watering Down Evolution in School Science Curriculum." You might think this is good news, that there are a majority of scientists and professors who support the current TEKS which require students to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories.

Firstly, as Josh Rosenau of Thoughts From Kansas runs down, it is not a push-poll. Those are very different kinds of things that often take place over the telephone. Instead, this was a very methodically constructed poll involving faculty. Secondly, as far as learning about the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, a bit of honesty is required here. The Discovery Institute could care less about the strengths and weaknesses of quantum gravitational theory, newtonian gravitational theory, continental drift theory or germ theory. They care about evolutionary theory, period. That is all they are focused on. Mr. Crowther continues:

Instead, TFN means exactly the opposite. Let me point out that THEY are the ones who want gut the state's science standards and water down the teaching of evolution. They want to remove the strengths and weaknesses language, language that has been in the TEKS for over a decade.

What is stunning is the TFN's jackbooted thuggery of threatening parents! Parents reading this should be enraged that liberal anti-science censors are now making veiled threats against any student that doesn't toe the Darwin party line.

What is unclear is how not including ID in the teaching of evolution waters down the teaching of evolution. The "jackbooted thuggery" is badly explained (if at all) but may be a veiled reference to this ruling in California a few months ago, in which a judge ruled that universities and colleges could reject the applications of students who did not receive adequate instruction in modern science. How would Mr. Crowther feel if students were being instructed that the earth was flat or in the center of the universe? He continues:

1. Texas scientists (97.7 percent) overwhelmingly reject "intelligent design" as valid science.
Misleading: Intelligent design has nothing to do with the current discussion of proposed science standards.
2. Texas science faculty (95 percent) want only evolution taught in science classrooms
Misrepresentative: Actually, they only want half of evolution taught. They are seeking to limit the free flow of information and censor science.

Point 1: How does ID not have anything to do with the standards? The strengths and weaknesses language was implemented with the expressed purpose of opening the door to ID and creationism. That is a smokescreen. Point 2: what is the other half of evolution? ID supporters specifically suggest that evolution does not explain certain aspects of descent.

Call me old-fashioned but it seems to me that the burden of proof is on the ID supporters to demonstrate the ID is science. Until they can do that, Texas educators have every right to state that they don't want to teach it. I wouldn't either. Hat Tip to Josh Rosenau.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cradle of Humankind in Danger?

The South African Star has reported on a problem affecting the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, which includes the Sterkfontein hominid cave site:

As gold mines on the West Rand have stopped operating, the water table has returned to pre-mining levels, but since 2002 more than 15 megalitres of contaminated water has been flowing out, or decanting, onto the surface daily, into rivers and karst systems.

This mine drainage, which is highly acidic, highly saline and contains raised levels of toxic heavy metals, has found its way into the Tweelopies Spruit flowing through the Krugersdorp Game Reserve and towards the Cradle of Humankind.

But the expert maintains there has been little or no intervention from authorities despite warnings issued more than a decade ago.

"Many millions of rands of rare cave minerals and fossils are being destroyed as a result of the ongoing unchecked pollution.

That is sad.

As I was Saying...

More information on the Gona discovery from the Case Western Reserve News Center:

Making obstetrical measurements and comparing them to prior published specimens, Simpson determined that the birth canal in the pelvis had adapted to deliver a baby with a brain almost comparable to a modern-day baby at about 36 weeks and weighing approximately four pounds.

H. erectus brain would have been up to 315 cubic centimeters (cc) at birth based on measurements of the width of the inlet and outlet of the pelvic fossils, making it slightly smaller than today’s babies born with brain sizes averaging about 380 cc.

Working at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, he also made comparisons with the reconstructed pelvis of "Lucy," an
Australopithecus afarensis specimen, which is about 3.2 million years old, to see how the pelvis was evolving as means to deliver offspring with larger brains.

Can you say "transitional fossil?"

More on the Gona Woman

A story from the Salt Lake Tribune sheds more light on the discovery of the Gona pelvis:

A skull might say much about an ancient hominid's brain, but no skeletal structure reveals more than the pelvis. That's why a complete specimen from an estimated 1.3-million-year-old female Homo erectus - the first known to science - has paleo-archeologists rethinking what they know about this early human ancestor.
University of Utah geologist Naomi Levin helped date the early Pleistocene fossil, whose large girth indicates H. erectus gave birth to babies with brains not much smaller than those of modern human babies, according to a study published today in the journal Science. Their brains were nearly 40 percent the size of an adult brain, indicating a greater maturity at birth. (Modern newborns' brains are 27 percent their adult size.)

This suggests a more "hit the ground running" evolutionary pattern with less neonatal and adolescent child-rearing and it is possible that Homo erectus brains reached their maximum size earlier than modern human brains do.

Homo erectus: Bigger Babies Than We Thought?

A story out of Indiana University is likely to overturn some cherished ideas in Palaeoanthropology. Sileshi Semaw of IU has excavated the remains of a Homo erectus pelvis that came with a few surprises:

Reconstructing pelvis bone fragments from the 1.2 million-year-old adult female, Semaw and his co-workers determined the early ancestor's birth canal was more than 30 percent larger than earlier estimates based on a 1.5-million-year-old juvenile male pelvis found in Kenya. The new female fragments were discovered in the Gona Study Area in Afar, Ethiopia, in 2001 and excavation was completed in 2003.

This is contrary to what was previously thought and represents a sharp break with preceding hominids, suggesting that there was rapid evolution for larger brains and the corresponding evolution of the pelvis to accomodate them. This find is estimated to be c. 1.3 million years old.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Trip to the "The Anti-Museum"

Charles Johnson over at Little Green Footballs has a link to a "highly entertaining account of a trip" to the Petersburg, Kentucky creationism museum by Ken Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society. It is priceless. Along the way, he has some interesting comments:

The creationist version of "catastrophic" plate tectonics was most amusing. Apparently the continents moved really rapidly during the Flood. The creationists apparently think the Precambrian supercontinent of Rodinia was the pre-Flood world. The Late Paleozoic supercontinent of Pangea then forms under water early in the Flood. After the "fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened" Pangea breaks up under water. Somehow the earth and life survived the enormous amount of energy released during this one-year planetary resurfacing.

This is amazing if nothing else for the fact that there is zero geological evidence to support this model—Zero! Furthermore, there is no scriptural evidence to support it either. The Genesis account says nothing about shifting plates and changing land masses. Ludicrous!

He concludes by saying the following:

The absurd claims made in the Anti-Museum are no threat to science. However, I'm not sure how much of a threat the Anti-Museum is to science education. It might have an effect on local public schools where supporters of the "museum" may be sending their children. Teachers may start avoiding evolution and geology in this part of the state, but they probably are already doing this. Most homeschoolers are already teaching their children creationism, so the museum may at worst strengthen the message the kids are getting at home. Some of the claims, such as the vegetarian Tyrannosaurus and other carnivores are so absurd one wonders how many of the children (or adults) are really going to accept it. There is a lot of scientifically valid information available on dinosaurs in books and on the Internet. Creationists are really going to have to go to great lengths to shelter their children from this information.

According to reports, the effect on public schools has been limited. How to address home schoolers is another matter. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Quote of the Day

From Denis Lamoureaux's essay Challenging and Reshaping Responses to Original Sin, written in response to George Murphy's paper:

Worrying about where Adam fits in the paleontological record makes about as much sense as trying to figure out where in the firmament NASA sends its spacecraft.

Pithy and wise.

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology: "Repeal Louisiana Law."

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology has joined the chorus of voices asking that Louisiana legislature repeal the "academic freedom" legislation passed this last year. According to the story in Flesh and Stone:

The SVP states that the law was passed “under the guise of ‘academic freedom’” but that its real intention is to “garner support and legal protection for the introduction of religious, creationist concepts, including intelligent design, in public school science curricula. By permitting instructional materials that are not reviewed by the state’s science standards committees, the Louisiana Act and those like it encourage teachers and administrators to work outside these standards. This makes it possible for local school boards to define science and science education to suit their own agendas, thereby compromising the quality of science education for students, and allowing religious discrimination in America’s public school science classrooms.”

Perhaps if enough pressure is placed on the legislature, they might reverse the laws but I would not hold my breath. These ideas are very deeply, often irrationally, entrenched.

Francisco Ayala on ID

Francisco Ayala, one of the most well known and renowned biologists has weighed in on the ID issue, according to a story in the Madison, Wisconsin Capital Times. He has no uncertain opinion:

"How do I know what the intentions of the designer are? There is no way we can test the theory of intelligent design," Ayala said. "It is not a scientific theory. It has not generated peer-reviewed publications. It has not been the subject of any testing or research."


"It would have to be imperfect design or incompetent design or inept design, but not intelligent design," he said, noting for example that human beings have more teeth than can fit in the jaw, so dentists have to remove the wisdom teeth.

"Any engineer who would have designed the human jaw would be fired the next day," he said to laughter.

This has always been a serious problem for ID and requires supporters of ID such as William Dembski to postulate that some parts of the biota are subject to ID and some are not.

Dr. Ayala also notes, in opposition to some writers, that by being able to explain things like tsunamis and earthquakes using scientific principles, we can stop blaming God for them. For those wondering where Dr. Ayala is coming from, here is an excellent article outlining his stance on science and faith issues.

George Murphy and Original Sin

George Murphy has written a provocative paper on the nature of evolution and original sin. This is the paper that is being discussed over at Steve Martin's page. I would like to add my own two cents. He starts thus:

This paper is offered as a constructive theological proposal that takes into account scientific realities. Only the most essential aspects of Scripture, the theological tradition, and scientific theories and observations can be included. I will assume that the general scientific picture of biological evolution is correct and that humanity came into being by God working through this process.

Alienating half your audience in the first paragraph. Not bad. Here he concedes the scientific evidence that the ICR and Discovery Institute beat their heads against continually. It is an evolutionary creation that drives his theology:

God created a universe able to develop in such a way that intelligent life would come into being so that God could become Incarnate.

He mentions the Cross as being the way that God reconciled himself to all things and that sin had entered the picture. In this view, he argues that Paul and the Gospel writers viewed Adam's sin as secondary to that of humankind as a whole. Here he introduces the concept of "sin of origin":

The crucial distinction here is between the idea of an “original sin” which took place at the beginning of human history and that of a “sin of origin” which affects all human beings from their beginnings and from which they cannot free themselves. The need for a savior is dependent upon the latter belief but not upon the former.

This viewpoint dispenses with the actual Adam and Eve, which has been a serious impediment for a truly evolutionary perspective. With the notion of a historical Adam, one must ask, at what point did this Adam live? What kind of human was this Adam? Was he a Neandertal, an advanced Homo erectus? What does this do to the ideas of early modern human origins that have moderns showing up in sub-Saharan Africa between 150 and 200 000 years ago? As Davis Young has pointed out, evidence that modern humans existed 100 000 years ago is irrespective of evolutionary scenarios. It still pushes a literal Adam way beyond any kind of literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2. This notion of a universal Adam creates the problem of how sin came into the world. As Murphy writes:

If Adam and Eve represent all humans, then they represent also the first humans. And if humanity has been sinful from the time that it came into being, without doing anything to become sinful, sin would be part of human nature itself. This would mean that in an important sense God was the creator of sin. To avoid this conclusion, we must use biblical texts about creation and sin for guidance in trying to understand how the first human sin might have had a role in bringing about a sinful condition as part of the evolutionary process.

Here the argument relies on interpretations of how Paul meant "sin" in various passages, positing that the Eastern Church, with its more developmental approach is more in line with what was meant by the original text. In this view, humans were able to "progress, with divine grace, toward full union with God." He then address human origins. Here, he argues that humans had evolved with selfish needs, wants and desires that conflicted with God's notions of right and wrong. Once humans became aware of God, these tendencies came into conflict with who he wanted them to be. The problem here is that it clearly casts what had come to be natural creation as evil and in need of correction. This suggests strongly that God is the author of evil, because the traits that have evolved over time he is surely responsible for in an ultimate sense. It is as if he then says, after 6 gigayears, "okay, now it is time to do things my way."

Interestingly, he notes, in his passage on biological death, the verse where God tells Adam that if he eats of the tree of life, "he will surely die." A literal reading of this passage would then suggest that humanity would have come to a screeching halt and there would be no one to read this. That ought to be a big clue to the literal crowd.

I have not provided a solution to the problem, just some ramblings. This is in no way a fully-fleshed out essay to the problem. I am still working on that. I am just not convinced Dr. Murphy has come up with a theologically sound, workable one.

The Nature of Sin and Evolution

Steve Martin has a running forum going on right now on original sin and evolution that I have been trying to keep up with but have not had a chance to comment on. Go here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

4300-Year Old Pyramid Found in Egypt

This is neat. In the sands of Saqqara, a pyramid has been discovered that is 4300 years old. According to the story in CNN:

The 4,300-year-old monument most likely belonged to the queen mother of the founder of Egypt's 6th Dynasty, several hundred years after the building of the famed Great Pyramids of Giza, the country's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said as he took the media on a tour of the find.

The discovery is part of the sprawling necropolis and burial site of the rulers of ancient Memphis, the capital of Egypt's Old Kingdom, about 19 kilometers (12 miles) south of Giza.

All that remains of the pyramid is a square-shaped 16-foot (5-meter) tall structure that had been buried under 65 feet (25 meters) of sand.

History comes alive.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Creationism in the English Classrooms

A new poll suggest that almost a third of school teachers in England favor teaching creationism in the classroom. The story in the Guardian continues:

Most controversially, 29% said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the government's guidelines on teaching evolution which states that "creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science national curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science". Fifty-three per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.

Thirty-one per cent of respondents and 18% of the 248 science teachers in the sample said they thought creationism or intelligent design should be given the same status as evolution in the classroom, although this question did not specify whether it was referring to science lessons or the curriculum in general. Twenty-two respondents said they had been pressured to teach creationism or intelligent design by their school.

I find this surprising in a country that is, at least in appearance, so secular in nature. This seems at odds with other trends in the country. It could be, as Michael Reiss pointed out, a world view as much as anything. More work to be done. Be sure to watch the link embedded in the story. It is a bit long but worth it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Larry Moran of Sandwalk has an equally scathing read on the Eyre review. It is here. And he is a biochemist.

Attack of the Non-Scientists!

I am writing this with a temperature of 101, so if it seems a tad incoherent, that is why. The National Post has a book review of David Berlinski's new book The Devil's Delusion: Atheism And Its Scientific Pretensions by Wayne Eyre in which he says some unfortunate things that are becoming more true what comes out of the Discovery Institute every day. In it, he says:

For example, Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, says that anyone who doesn't believe in evolution "is ignorant, stupid or insane." Oxford professor Peter Atkins, another ardent atheist, recently denounced theology, poetry and philosophy and concluded that "scientists are at the summit of knowledge, beacons of rationality and intellectually honest." Geneticist Emile Zuckerkandl -- writing on whether biological facts suggest an intelligent designer -- terms the notion of intelligent design an "intellectual virus" and its advocates "an offensive little swarm of insects ... [who] feed like leeches on irrational beliefs."

That these gentlemen go on like this in the wake of, for example, biochemist Michael Behe's masterful Darwin's Black Box, in which he sets out a devastating case for the "irreducible complexity" of human systems, truly makes one wonder about the confidence they have in their own convictions.

As A.J. Hakari noted in his review of Expelled:

...using figures like Richard Dawkins to represent the entire scientific community is like saying Charles Manson is indicative of all Californians.

Quite true. Wayne Eyre also hasn't done his homework on Behe. As far as confidence in the theory is concerned, Kenneth Miller notes something that is lacking from this review:

Perhaps the single most stunning thing about Darwin's Black Box, Michael Behe's "Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," is the amount of territory that its author concedes to Darwinism. As tempted as they might be to pick up this book in their own defense, "scientific creationists" should think twice about enlisting an ally who has concluded that the Earth is several billion years old, that evolutionary biology has had "much success in accounting for the patterns of life we see around us," that evolution accounts for the appearance of new organisms including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and who is convinced that all organisms share a "common ancestor." In plain language, this means that Michael Behe and I share an evolutionary view of the natural history of the Earth and the meaning of the fossil record; namely, that present-day organisms have been produced by a process of descent with modification from their ancient ancestors. Behe is clear, firm, and consistent on this point. For example, when Michael and I engaged in debate at the 1995 meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, I argued that the 100% match of DNA sequences in the pseudogene region of beta-globin was proof that humans and gorillas shared a recent common ancestor. To my surprise, Behe said that he shared that view, and had no problem with the notion of common ancestry. Creationists who believe that Behe is on their side should proceed with caution - he states very clearly that evolution can produce new species, and that human beings are one of those species.

Moving back to Berlinski's book, the author of the review states:

It's Berlinski's commentary on the paucity of "argument or evidence" in support of classic Darwinism that constitutes the biggest atom bomb of the book. "Suspicions about Darwin's theory arise for two reasons," he writes. "The first: The theory makes little sense. The second: It is supported by little evidence ... The theories that we do have do what they can do, and then they stop. They do not stop because a detail is missing; they stop because we cannot go on. Difficulties are accommodated by the magician's age-old tactic of misdirection."

Well, its a bomb all right. It is just one that doesn't go off. This fabrication is so old it has whiskers. It is also so intellectually dishonest, it warrants condemnation. There is so much evidence for evolution that, at this point, only one who chooses to remain ignorant refuses to see it. There is evidence for microevolution, macroevolution and everything in between. We have transitional fossils from every major class and thousands upon thousands of genus and species transitions, including ones in the human fossil record. I probably should read the entire book before forming an opinion, but I have read Berlinski's work and don't have high hopes. At one point, I had respect for the research that was going on at The Discovery Institute but that was long ago. As John Derbeyshire said:

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

Nope, still hasn't happened. The DI seems to become more insular as time goes on, resembling the ICR more and more. David Berlinski is a classic example of this. What a shame.

Monday, November 03, 2008

St. Charles?

This parody hits on so many levels it is hard to know where to start. It is also likely to offend just about everybody on some level. The Onion has the following story: "Evolutionists Flock To Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain." In Dayton, Tennessee, no less. The story begins:

DAYTON, TN—A steady stream of devoted evolutionists continued to gather in this small Tennessee town today to witness what many believe is an image of Charles Darwin—author of The Origin Of Species and founder of the modern evolutionary movement—made manifest on a concrete wall in downtown Dayton.

"I brought my baby to touch the wall, so that the power of Darwin can purify her genetic makeup of undesirable inherited traits," said Darlene Freiberg, one among a growing crowd assembled here to see the mysterious stain, which appeared last Monday on one side of the Rhea County Courthouse. The building was also the location of the famed "Scopes Monkey Trial" and is widely considered one of Darwinism's holiest sites. "Forgive me, O Charles, for ever doubting your Divine Evolution. After seeing this miracle of limestone pigmentation with my own eyes, my faith in empirical reasoning will never again be tested."

In light of the "temple to science" built in Berkeley, this is not so far off the mark. This manages to get the rabid atheists like Richard Dawkins, the mystic "face on Mars" followers (although see this absolutely creepy photo), and then turns the tables on the church-as-believer/scientist-as-skeptic motif. This is brilliant and ranks up there with the "Intelligent Falling" story they did a bit back.