Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Review of Darwin's Camera

Ewen Calloway, of the New Scientist has a review of a new book called Darwin's Camera, by Phillip Prodger. Calloway writes:
FEW scientific fields have escaped the influence of Charles Darwin, from anthropology and geology to zoology and, of course, evolutionary biology. Now we ought to add photography to the list, argues Phillip Prodger, a curator at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, in his revealing new book.

Darwin's influence on art is surprising; most of his published works included few images, and he showed little aptitude for art. On the Origin of Species contains just one illustration, a "tree of life" with all the composition of a stick figure. Indeed, the naturalist often relied on abler hands to illustrate his works.

Yet when his scientific interests turned to the evolution of behaviour and facial expression, Darwin and his collaborators pushed the boundaries of photography, an art form still in its infancy at the time. The result, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, wasn't the first scientific book to include photographs, but when it was published in 1872 it was the most important.
One often forgets that Darwin wrote many books that did not explicitly deal with evolution.

A Grim Reminder of How Things Might Have Turned Out...

An article by Steve Meacham in the Sydney Morning Herald explores one of the great "what if's" of history:

HE HAS gone down as an obscure footnote in history: a failed Royal Navy captain who committed suicide in 1828 off the coast of Patagonia, taking 12 days to die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

There is no known portrait of him. No record of his birth.

Yet the State Library of NSW has just paid $200,000 for the final, handwritten journal of Pringle Stokes, at auction in London against stiff competition.

Why? "Because it's one of those great 'what ifs' of history," explains the library's senior curator, Paul Brunton.

Stokes was the first captain of HMS Beagle. Had he not committed suicide, Charles Darwin would never have been invited to join the Beagle on its epic second voyage.

The history of scientific discovery - certainly Australia's role in it - would have taken a different course.

Arguably, there would be no The Origin Of Species.

In this case, Wallace would probably the one we would be feting this year, instead of Darwin. Instead of being "Darwinists," we would be "Wallacians."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Galapagos Finches in Trouble

According to a story in the Independent, by Mike McCarthy, the finches that Darwin wrote about in his book On the Origin of Species, are in danger of extinction. McCarthy writes:

There are now only about 100 individuals left of the Galapagos mangrove finch, the rarest of the 14 closely related finch species that Darwin encountered when he visited the islands in 1835 as the naturalist on board the survey ship HMS Beagle.

All of these species evolved from a single common ancestor to fit different niches in the ecosystem, and when Darwin realised this once he was back in Britain, it helped to trigger his insight that completely new species could come into being through the process of natural selection.

The mangrove finch has shown the most extreme evolution of all: it inhabits only the narrow strips of mangrove swamp that are found in just a few parts of the Galapagos coastline.

Black rats which infested the holds of pirate ships have been identified as the chief culprits behind the destruction of the finches. The rats are thought to have arrived on Isabella, the largest of the Galapagos islands, on pirate vessels perhaps as early as the 16th century. Pirates used the archipelago, which is around 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, as a hiding place before sailing off to the Spanish shipping lanes in search of boats carrying treasure.

The conservation effort is underway to move some of the finches to a location that is free of predatory rats. The story also allows for some observations that only those steeped in "Darwiniana" would know:

When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835 he and colleagues collected many of the finches, but did not at first realise they were related and missed their significance. It was not until he had returned to London that the ornithologist John Gould examined them and found them to be all subtly different but closely related members of a quite new family of birds.

It was this discovery that set Darwin thinking that they may all have evolved from a single common ancestor, and thus to start to understand the mechanism of natural selection, which enabled new species to evolve.

I hope the project is successful.

The Forgotten Alfred Russel Wallace

There is an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Michael Casey detailing the life and times of the other author of the theory of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. Casey writes:

"Excellent. This is the actual spot," he yells.

It is on this site, in a long-gone thatched hut, that Alfred Russel Wallace is believed to have spent weeks in 1855 writing a seminal paper on the theory of evolution. Yet he is largely unknown outside scientific circles today, overshadowed by Charles Darwin, whom most people credit as the father of a theory that explains the origins of life through how plants and animals evolve.

Now, in the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, a growing number of academics and amateur historians are rediscovering Wallace. Their efforts are raising debate over exactly what Wallace contributed to the theory of evolution, and what role, if any, the spiritual world plays in certain aspects of natural selection.

Beccaloni, a 41-year-old British evolutionary biologist with London's Natural History Museum, is on a quest to return Wallace to what he sees as his rightful place in history. He and Fred Langford Edwards, a British artist making an audiovisual project about Wallace, are retracing the scientist's eight-year trip around Southeast Asia.

Unlike Wallace, Darwin spent two decades developing his theory of natural selection and had far more evidence to back it up, as presented in his defining work, "The Origin of Species," published 150 years ago. But Wallace reached the same conclusion before Darwin published his findings, and Beccaloni contends that Wallace deserves equal billing.

Wallace was a fascinating man and is the subject of a chapter called The Man Who Knew Islands, from the excellent book, The Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen. Darwin was pressured by Charles Lyell to publish his findings once he found out that Wallace also had come to the same conclusion. Lyell feared that Darwin would be scooped.

Sort of deflates the bubble of those who use the term "Darwinist" doesn't it?

Dawkins' Camp for Atheists

Richard Dawkins has started a summer camp for atheists, in which he will teach them, instead of evolution. Lois Rogers, in the Times Online, writes:

While their friends jet off to Spain or the Greek islands, the siblings will be hunting for imaginary unicorns in Somerset, while learning about moral philosophy. The Jagos, from Basingstoke, Hampshire, are among 24 children who will be taking part in Britain’s first summer camp for atheists.

The five-day retreat is being subsidised by Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, and is intended to provide an alternative to faith-based summer camps normally run by the Scouts and Christian groups.

Crispian Jago, an IT consultant, is hoping the experience will enrich his two children. “I’m very keen on not indoctrinating them with religion or creeds,” he said this weekend. “I would rather equip them with the tools to learn how to think, not what to think.”

That last sentence is pretty amusing since some of the greatest thinkers of the last two thousand years were believers in God. Wait for creationist groups to pounce on this one. Fish? Barrel?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More on the Trip to the Creation Museum

This story in the News and Observer by Jeffrey McMurray about the trip to the Creation Museum by a group of palaeontologists is a bit longer than the last one. It also focuses more on what the scientists think about the place:

"The real purpose of the museum visit is to give some of my colleagues an opportunity to sense how they're being portrayed," said Arnold Miller, a professor of paleontology at the University of Cincinnati, which is hosting the conference. "They're being demonized, I feel, in this museum as people who are responsible for all the ills of society."

Miller and other paleontologists object to numerous other aspects of the museum they say imply science is doing more harm than good.

The story also interviews cell biologist David Menton who works for AIG:

David Menton, a cell biology professor and researcher with Answers In Genesis, which founded the museum, made no apologies for the fact that the museum's teachings are rooted in the Old Testament. He insists they rely on largely the same facts scientists use, just with a starting point millions of years later. Anything before that can't really be proven by science anyway, he says.

"I've spent enough of my professional life in science that I know science being compatible with religion is not the sort of thing that keeps scientists up at night," Menton said. "There's a lot of scientists out there that rather applaud that idea."

He defended the displays that argue people and dinosaurs are contemporaries, including one at the museum entrance that show two young girls playing in a field near a dinosaur.

"I'm not saying dinosaurs and man frequently hobnobbed," Menton said. "I live on Earth at the same time as grizzly bears, but if I could stay as far away from grizzly bears, that suits me fine."

This man is a cell biologist and he makes statements about the lack of science proving things? Of course it can't be proven, but when you have a mountain of evidence that points one direction, just saying that it cannot be proven is a weak excuse. The inanity of that last comment is amazing. It ignores two hundred years of geological discovery that shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that dinosaurs and humans are separated in time by at least 50 million years. What does he make of all of the dinosaur fossils of animals that were sixty to seventy feet long? Or the fact that there were thousands of them on the landscape? The last line of the article pretty much sums it up:
"Faith is one thing," said Mark Terry, a high school science teacher from Seattle, "but when it comes to their science statements, they're completely off the wall."

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

New Radio Show by Jonathan Park

Just when you thought it was safe to put down the mallet, another mole pops up. A new series of radio dramas by Jonathan Park is designed to "disprove popular Darwinist myths." Remember what I said a bit back about people that use the term "Darwinist" and "Darwinism." They typically don't understand what they are talking about. The story, in Christian News Wire has this:
The best-selling Jonathan Park audio drama series follows young Jonathan and his paleontologist family on their adventures around the globe. In "Jonathan Park and the Journey Never Taken", the Polar Star Medallion mysteriously shows up at the Brenan Museum of Creation, quickly throwing the Creation Response Team into a memorable scavenger hunt. Cryptic clues lead their team to Sweden, Scotland, and beyond in search of a promised treasure. Along the way, they explore the true history of Charles Darwin and his colleagues and learn how these men helped perpetuate the myth of a universe created without a Creator.
The Jonathan Park site is here. Its message is clear from the beginning:
Come visit the exciting world of Jonathan Park! For years, the Jonathan Park Creation Adventure series has been equipping parents and children to defend biblical creation and against the lies of evolution. Now, at the start of a new year, there has never been a better time to begin the adventure with your own family.
For 18 dollars and 75 cents, I am almost curious enough...almost. One wonders what lies he is talking about.

Creation Ministries UK Deceives Scientists

The BBC has a story on a film coming out shortly called The Voyage that Shook the World, about the life of Charles Darwin that has some scientists hopping mad:
Professor Peter Bowler, the author of a biography of Charles Darwin and many other books on the history of evolution, said he was interviewed for the The Voyage That Shook The World without realising that the film was being made by a Creationist group.

Professor Bowler, who has spent most of his academic career at Queen's University, Belfast, researching Darwinism, says he is unhappy to be appearing in what he regards as an "anti-Darwinian" film which offers an historically distorted portrait of Darwin. He claims that the film's narrative implies that Darwin's theory led him towards racism, whereas recent historical work by James Moore and Adrian Desmond shows that Darwin's scientific work was partly motivated by the naturalist's passionate opposition to racism.
The deception took the same form as that of Ben Stein's Expelled! and Bill Maher's Religulous:
Phil Bell, CEO of Creation Ministries UK, acknoweged that his organisation established a "front company" called Fathom Media, because they were concerned that experts such as Peter Bowler would not agree to take part in the film if they realised it was an "overtly Creationist" production. "At the end of the day," he said, "[when] people see 'Creationist', instantly the shutters go up and that would have shut us off from talking to the sort of experts, such as Professor Bowler, that we wanted to get to."
Gee, I can't imagine why that would be? Now here's the real kicker:
I asked Phil Bell if this method of securing an interview was "deceptive". He said: "Well, it could be called deceptive. But I think, at the end of the day, I would say that more people are concerned about how we've made a documentary, that's a world-class documentary, clearly with wonderful footage, with excellent interviews, and balanced open discussion."
In other words, it doesn't matter that he lied to people about why he was interviewing them, or that he lied about what the content of the film would be and therefore he feels justified in using deceptive tactics. How is God glorified in any of this??? How can it be a balanced, open discussion when the people doing the interviewing have a hidden agenda? This is exactly why creationists are vilified by scientists and why they will never get the legitimacy that they so long for and will never have.

Donald Prothero, in his introduction to the special transitional fossils issue of Evolution Education and Outreach puts it this way in his description of young earth creationists:
As discussed in my recent book (Prothero 2007), their tactics consisted of taking quotations out context (“quote mining”), citing old outdated sources or oversimplified trade books (and even children’s books), and misinterpreting what little bit of real science they did cite correctly. In no case was their “research” based on actual study and interpretation of real outcrops or fossils, since none of these creationist authors has any appropriate qualifications or training in paleontology or geology.
This just makes Christianity look deceptive and devious. We seek to show the truth of Christ to the world. I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that young earth creationism is extremely harmful to the cause of Christ.

Hat tip to LGF.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Zhoukoudian Site Being Re-excavated

The site of the original Zhoukoudian Homo erectus fossils discovered by Davidson Black and described in detail by Franz Weidenreich is being re-excavated due to possible collapse. The site ShowChina has the story (which loaded a tad funny Firefox). They write:
Paleoanthropologists will excavate 20 square meters along the western wall of Locality 1, said Gao Xing, deputy director and research fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP), at a press conference here Wednesday.

Locality 1, where the first complete skull of "Peking Man" was found, used to be a 20-meter-wide, 140-meter-deep cave but the ceiling has collapsed.

The four-month excavation aims to protect the western wall fromthreats of collapse, he said. "We found a wide longitudinal crack from the top and rocks in the wall are loose. It could collapse in any moment. Once it collapses, it will cause serious damage to the relic deposit in the cave."

This section remained the most complete sequence of stratum settlement with rich relic deposits of great significance, he added.

Natural weathering caused the damage as the cave has long been exposed to air. But the excavations in the 1920s and 1930s did not properly protect the cave, Gao told Xinhua.

"Repair work cannot be done without a comprehensive excavation," he said.
This is excellent news and provides the opportunity to locate more Homo erectus remains within the cave. The lack of the original fossils is often seized on by creationists, who declare the remains a hoax because the originals cannot be found. This, despite the fact that Franz Weidenreich made excellent casts of the fossils and wrote up an extensive and detailed report on the remains.

Evolution is Faster in Warmer Climates

A New Zealand study has found that animals in warmer climates evolve faster than those in colder climates. The story, in TopNews, notes:
The idea that microevolution happens faster in warmer environments is not new. But, this is the first time the effect has been shown in mammals, which regulate their own body temperature.

“The result was unexpected,” said Len Gillman from Auckland University of Technology, who led the study.

“We have previously found a similar result for plant species and other groups have seen it in marine animals. But, since these are ‘ectotherms’ - their body temperature is controlled directly by the environment - everyone assumed that the effect was caused by climate altering their metabolic rate,” he added.

Scientists believe that this link between temperature and metabolic rate means that, in warmer climates, the germ cells that eventually develop into sperm and eggs divide more frequently.
In colder climates, there is more of a necessity to conserve heat, which uses more constitutional resources.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

35 000 Year-Old Flute Found

Yahoo News is reporting that a flute has been discovered in Germany that is c. 35 ky old:

A team led by University of Tuebingen archaeologist Nicholas Conard assembled the flute from 12 pieces of griffon vulture bone scattered in a small plot of the Hohle Fels cave in southern Germany.

Together, the pieces comprise a 8.6-inch (22-centimeter) instrument with five holes and a notched end. Conard said the flute was 35,000 years old.

"It's unambiguously the oldest instrument in the world," Conard told The Associated Press this week. His findings were published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Other archaeologists agreed with Conard's assessment.

Suspicion is that it was crafted by modern humans due to associated archaeological remains, although both Neandertals and moderns were on the landscape at the same time. One is reminded of the Neandertal flute hoax perpetrated by Discover Magazine in 1998 that, unfortunately, the ICR took seriously. A clue should have been that the discoverer's name was Todkopf, which is "dead head" in German.

Gave Up

I gave up trying to listen to the Ken Ham broadcast. The stream rebuffered every twenty seconds or so, making it impossible to keep the train of thought. Oh well.

Brain Evolution in Early Primates

Work by University of Florida vertebrate palaeontologists Mary Silcox and Jonathan Bloch suggest that the early primate brain may not have evolved in quite the way we think it did. The story, in Science Daily, has this to say:

"Most explanations on the evolution of primate brains are based on data from living primates," said lead author Mary Silcox, an anthropologist at the University of Winnipeg and research associate at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History. "There have been all these inferences about what the brains of the earliest primates would look like, and it turns out that most of those inferences are wrong."

Researchers used CT scans to take more than 1,200 cross-sectional X-ray images of the skull, which were combined into a 3-D model of the brain.

"A large and complex brain has long been regarded as one of the major steps that sets primates apart from the rest of mammals," said Florida Museum vertebrate paleontologist and study co-author Jonathan Bloch. "At our very humble beginnings, we weren't so special. That happened over tens of millions of years."

It is generally thought that the plesiadapiformes were not true primates but perhaps led to them. These earliest primates relied much more on sense of smell than later primates did.

Scientists Take a Trip to the Creation Museum

The Cincinnati Enquirer has a story on a junket to the Creation Museum by a group of 80 palaeontogists. The story, by Cliff Peale notes:
For the 80 paleontologists, taking a break from their convention at the University of Cincinnati to tour the museum, some were skeptical, some were amused, some were offended.

But they all seemed interested to see the museum, built to tell a Creationist view of the origins of man and to rebut the theory of evolution that many of the scientists hold dear.

“I think it’s a very professional outfit and they put on a good show,” said Jason Rosenhouse, a math professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and manager of a blog on evolution. “If you can sort of suspend disbelief, you can see why people get caught up in it.

“I hate the fact that this exists,” he added. “But given that it exists, I can see why people would find it compelling.”

Its all in the presentation. According to all accounts, the museum is very well presented. Too bad its all wrong.

Creation Museum Webcast

The Creation Museum will host a webcast tonight at 8:00. The site address is:


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Peppered Moth is Changing Color Again

James Tozer of iOL Science reports that the peppered moths that gained so much notoriety as being one of the premier examples of natural selection are changing color again. He writes:
"We have seen these moths making a big swing back to their original colour," said Richard Fox, of Dorset-based Butterfly Conservation, who is project manager of Garden Moths Count 2009.

"It has been happening for decades as air pollution is cleaned up and with the demise of heavy industry in the big cities.

"The moths have been responding to this and the numbers of black and white moths will vary across the county.

"In Dorset it is very rare to see the moth in its dark form, but in industrial cities 150 years ago they were almost all black and that's where we will notice the greatest changes now."

The peppered moth, Biston betularia, was originally white with speckles, which allowed it to rest on lichen-covered trees and walls without being spotted by birds.
Michael Majerus recently did a renewed study on the moths,in 1997, concluding that the evidence was not as solid as was originally reported. Stung by the fact that creationists seized on this as evidence that "Darwinists" were lying about the evidence, he set about doing a more detailed study and, in the process, corroborated the evidence that the variations in the coloring in the moth are subject to selection. It seems they still are.

David Klinghoffer and the Evil of Evolution

David Klinghoffer has a post in which he recounts a radio program that he did in which one of the callers asked, apparently in his best preacher-style voice:
"David, would you not saaaay that Darwinism is a lie, from its top to its bottom, sprung straight from the pit of Hell!?"
Rather than answer the question directly, which he should have done, Klinghoffer, who has written some truly amazing drivel about evolution, equivocates. He writes:
There was sort of an awkward pause. I'm a pretty mild and soft-spoken kind of person. I didn't want to disagree with him, but I couldn't quite echo his sentiment, neither the style nor the substance. "Well," I offered, "that's not exactly the way I would put, though I like your formulation! What I would say is that it's a delusion with, um, some very negative social consequences." I felt bad about having to disappoint him.
A delusion? Thousands of scientists working around the world, putting together the pieces of the past and Klinghoffer, without a shred of scientific training, calls it a delusion? As far as the negative social consequences, society had no trouble creating mischief long before Charles Darwin came along. Klinghoffer is both a bad biologist and a bad historian. And what is it about the caller's formulation that Klinghoffer liked? Does he really think Darwinism comes from Hell? Amazing.

Hat tip to LGF.

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And Here's a Gift For You: The Charles Darwin Bible!

When the NEA has its annual education convention, they will receive a special gift at the door: the Charles Darwin Bible. Quoth the story, from Earned Media,
The NEA Creation Science Educators Caucus has been attending the convention for 14 years. According to Ramsek, "Every year there is a theme reflected on our 20-foot banner at our booth, and a primary resource that we give out for free. In past years we've plastered statements like 'Refuting Evolution,' 'Evolution is Science Fraud,' and 'Evolution Fuels Racism' on this banner. But we are most excited for this year's outreach because we believe it will be the most Christ-exalting year ever, with that Name above every other name featured on our large banner. It boldly states 'For by Jesus Christ all things were created.' This summer also marks the first time that we've given out the Word of God itself through The Charles Darwin Bible."
No wonder Christians look like idiots to the NEA, which comprises the largest voting block in the Democratic National Convention. Every one of those "banner" ideas has been rebutted time and time again. No, evolution hasn't been refuted. No, it isn't scientific fraud, and no, it doesn't fuel racism. As John Derbyshire said:
I’ll also say that I write the following with some reluctance. It’s a wearying business, arguing with Creationists. Basically, it is a game of Whack-a-Mole. They make an argument, you whack it down. They make a second, you whack it down. They make a third, you whack it down. So they make the first argument again. This is why most biologists just can’t be bothered with Creationism at all, even for the fun of it. It isn’t actually any fun. Creationists just chase you round in circles. It’s boring.
The bad thing is that people associate these groups with ID groups as well and they know full well what is going on in the statehouses of Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, New Mexico, Kentucky and other states that have "academic freedom" bills either up for vote or being proposed. Sadly, the people standing at the booths have little to no knowledge of what it is they are handing out, let alone how scientifically bankrupt the whole YEC movement is.

Christianity has so much to offer the world through the salvation of Jesus Christ and instead of offering that kind of help to people coming in the door, these people attempt to take down a theory that has been shown to be scientifically sound for over 150 years? Michael Dowd is right, this really is "flat earth" religion.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

More on the Human-Orang Connexion

Here is a much longer article from Eurekalert! on the idea that humans are more closely related to orang-utans than to chimpanzees. They write:

Jeffrey H. Schwartz, professor of anthropology in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences and president of the World Academy of Art and Science, and John Grehan, director of science at the Buffalo Museum, conducted a detailed analysis of the physical features of living and fossil apes that suggested humans, orangutans, and early apes belong to a group separate from chimpanzees and gorillas. They then constructed a scenario for how the human-orangutan common ancestor migrated between Southeast Asia—where modern orangutans are from—and other parts of the world and evolved into now-extinct apes and early humans. The study provides further evidence of the human-orangutan connection that Schwartz first proposed in his book The Red Ape: Orangutans and Human Origins, Revised and Updated (Westview Press, 2005).

Schwartz and Grehan scrutinized the hundreds of physical characteristics often cited as evidence of evolutionary relationships among humans and other great apes—chimps, gorillas, and orangutans—and selected 63 that could be verified as unique within this group (i.e., they do not appear in other primates). Of these features, the analysis found that humans shared 28 unique physical characteristics with orangutans, compared to only two features with chimpanzees, seven with gorillas, and seven with all three apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans). Gorillas and chimpanzees shared 11 unique characteristics.

Schwartz and Grehan then examined 56 features uniquely shared among modern humans, fossil hominids—ancestral humans such as Australopithecus—and fossil apes. They found that orangutans shared eight features with early humans and Australopithecus and seven with Australopithecus alone. The occurrence of orangutan features in Australopithecus contradicts the expectation generated by DNA analysis that ancestral humans should have chimpanzee similarities, Schwartz and Grehan write. Chimpanzees and gorillas were found to share only those features found in all great apes.

Schwartz and Grehan pooled humans, orangutans, and the fossil apes into a new group called "dental hominoids," named for their similarly thick-enameled teeth. They labeled chimpanzees and gorillas as African apes and wrote in Biogeography that although they are a sister group of dental hominoids, "the African apes are not only less closely related to humans than are orangutans, but also less closely related to humans than are many" fossil apes.

As they, themselves acknowledge, the earliest hominid material is in Africa, which is where chimpanzees are and where orangs are not. They suggest that there was a migration between 12-13 mya of hominoids between east Asia and Africa before there was a separation of the different groups that eventually became chimpanzees and orang-utans. Peter Andrews seems to like the idea. I wonder how many others will sign on?

Orangs Our Closest Ancestors?

There is a short story out of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Jeffrey Schwartz and John Grehan have discovered that chimpanzees may not be our closest relative but that, rather, it is the orang. The article is short but has this to say:

They conducted a detailed analysis of the physical features of living and fossil apes that suggested humans, orangutans, and early apes belong to a group separate from chimpanzees and gorillas.

According to a news release, the researchers reject as "problematic" the popular suggestion, based on DNA analysis, that humans are most closely related to chimpanzees, "which they maintain is not supported by fossil evidence."

I am guessing this will make some very large waves.

Hollywood and Prehistory

Canwest has an article on the fascination for "caveman" films in Hollywood. They write:

As humans, we seem eternally obsessed with two things: our own origins, and furry bikinis on svelte cavebabes.

In other words, caveman movies are as old as Hollywood. D.W. Griffiths created one in 1912 called Genesis, and sparked so many imitators that Charlie Chaplin had satirized the genre by 1914 with His Prehistoric Past. Talk about prehistory.

As this summer has proved, the genre still has legs - think of Will Ferrell's Land of the Lost (a sort of caveman sub-genre film), and Year One, which opened Friday.

They they proceed to list the best characters of the last hundred years of film. My favorite is still 1 million years B.C. just for the pure, unintended humor.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The John Freshwater Case: He Doesn't Have One

Steve Goble, writing for the Mansfield News Journal writes that John Freshwater, the fired biology teacher has a case of little merit. Freshwater maintains he was terminated because he had a Bible on his desk and that violated school policy. That is apparently where it breaks down:

Once discussion moves away from the Bible, Freshwater's case wobbles like a Weeble -- and then falls down. Freshwater is accused of teaching non-scientific, religion-fueled creationism instead of science. On this score, the teacher's lawsuit should fail.

Basically, he is accused of undermining legitimate science -- evolution theory -- and pressing make-believe "science" based on Scripture.

Freshwater's lawyers may press an "academic freedom" argument, insisting teachers must be able to discuss a wide range of ideas in order to do their jobs. The argument sounds impressive, loaded with yummy fair-play goodness and seems like a common-sense idea -- until you consider that those who support teaching creationism in public schools want the academic freedom to teach the equivalent of five plus five equals nineteen.

If, indeed, the court can be persuaded that he was teaching creationism, it will be another ruling like Dover, which was narrowly decided. About that, Steve writes:

The plaintiffs successfully argued that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and that the school board policy was thus unconstitutional. The intelligent design and creationism proponents had their chance to make a scientific case, and they flopped.

Freshwater's insistence that his free speech and religion rights are violated just because he doesn't get to teach his religious views in a public school -- supported with public funds -- deserves to flop, too. He has a right to believe whatever he wants and preach whatever he wants on his own time. On the public's time, and with the public's pay, he is supposed to teach science.

The courts now have another chance to make that perfectly clear
This case might not be so narrowly rendered.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

A Nifty Spoof Over at SFGate

Here is a great graphic from SFGate's Bad Reporter.

The headline pretty much speaks for itself.

Neandertal Fossil Found in the North Sea

A skull fragment that was retrieved from the North Sea is believed to that of a Neandertal adult male. The story, from UPI continues:
The 60,000-year-old Neanderthal is the first confirmed specimen to be found undersea anywhere in the world, the BBC reported Monday. The fossil was found by Luc Anthonis, a private collector from Belgium, among animal remains and stone artifacts recovered several miles off the coast of the Netherlands in 2001.
Well, this certainly confirms traffic between the British Isles and the mainland, which we pretty much knew was going on anyway, based on previous remains in England.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Selection for Same Sex Relationships?

Researchers have found that throughout the animal kingdom, there is same-sex bonding behavior:
Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk, biologists at the University of California, Riverside, found that same-sex relationships were a universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, seen in everything from worms to frogs to birds. "It's clear that same-sex sexual behavior extends far beyond the well-known examples that dominate both the scientific and popular literature: for example bonobos, dolphins, penguins and fruit flies," said Bailey.
It is not clear what selective pressure this would bring to bear since the way t hings are set up is decidedly not for same-sex behavior. It is possible that, as Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park said "life finds a way":
"Same-sex sexual behaviors are flexibly deployed in a variety of circumstances, for example as alternative reproductive tactics, as cooperative breeding strategies, as facilitators of social bonding or as mediators of intrasexual conflict. Once this flexibility is established, it becomes in and of itself a selective force that can drive selection on other aspects of physiology, life history, social behaviour and even morphology," said Bailey.
So it may be that these are dominance acts or alloparenting acts as well. What is not elucidated in the study is whether there are instances of homosexuality in which the couples simply never mate with an animal of the opposite sex at any point. Scripture clearly prohibits this sort of behavior among humans as being sinful. One wonders what God thinks about it in the lower animal kingdom? Curiouser and curiouser.

Michael Ruse at the Creation Museum

Andrew Brown's Blog has a story about the trip that Michael Ruse made with some of graduate students to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Ruse remarks that the museum is not quite as high-tech as he imagined it would be but also, that, there is a great deal of sincerity poking through:

This is, I think one of the key differences between the new, or militant, atheists and Darwinians like Ruse, just as atheist as they but a lot less anti-religious. The new atheists recoil instinctively from the idea that they should get a feeling for the ideas and psychology of creationists. To them the essential point about believers is that they are stupid and crazy and wrong. So why waste your one life trying to inhabit a mind smaller and more twisted than your own?

But this constant identification of religion with irrationality, stupidity, cruelty, and ignorance is doubly self-defeating. It doesn't of course work to persuade anyone out of religious belief. But it also promotes some quite grotesque self-deception. For if all the bad traits in human nature are religious, and I am not religious, then I am surely free from all the believers' faults. Sometimes I think this explains the attractions of that style of atheism.

I still have not been to the museum. I should go but cannot scare up the money for the price tag. It is also not a place that I want to take my children—it would simply fill their heads with things I don't want there.

New Issue of Evolution Education Outreach on Transitional Forms

The new issue of Evolution Education Outreach, which is free to the public is devoted to transitional fossils. There is a very good article on the recent "fishapod" transition by Jennifer Clack, which tackles all of the transitional forms that we have and makes coherent sense of them. The conclusion hits the nail on the head:
In summary, we now have a much richer fossil record that has improved our understanding of the timing, sequence of events, and conditions in which the origin of tetrapods took place. The boundary between “fish” and “tetrapods” is becoming progressively more difficult to draw, and a more complex story is emerging in which, for example, the origin of limbs with digits, the origin of walking and terrestriality, and the origin of tetrapods in a strict sense, may be three different things.
A great article. Read the whole thing, and the other articles, as well. With more articles like this coming out, the creationist/ID lie that there are no transitional fossils is becoming hollower and hollower.

More on Limusaurus inextricabilis

InSciences has an expanded article on the discovery of the beaked dinosaur with the more avian-like hand structure:
The newly discovered dinosaur's hand is unusual and provides surprising new insights into a long-standing controversy over which fingers are present in living birds, which are theropod dinosaur descendants. The hands of theropod dinosaurs suggest that the outer two fingers were lost during the course of evolution and the inner three remained. Conversely, embryos of living birds suggest that birds have lost one finger from the outside and one from the inside of the hand. Unlike all other theropods, the hand of Limusaurus strongly reduced the first finger and increased the size of the second. Drs. Clark and Xu and their co-authors argue that Limusaurus' hand represents a transitional condition in which the inner finger was lost and the other fingers took on the shape of the fingers next to them. The three fingers of most advanced theropods are the second, third and fourth fingers--the same ones indicated by bird embryos--contrary to the traditional interpretation that they were the first, second and third.
The article will appear in the June 18 issue of Nature.

Another Bird-Dinosaur Link

Yahoo news is reporting an incredible fossil find in China:
A young dinosaur that fatefully wandered into a mudpool around 155 million years could help explain the mysterious evolution of birds, says the world's most famous fossil-hunter.

A team led Xing Xu, a Chinese dino expert with scores of astonishing finds to his name, uncovered the fossilised remains of a small, exceptional dinosaur in the Shishugou Formation in western China's Junggar Basin.

The creature is the only known beaked herbivorous therapod -- the family of two-legged dinosaurs that were notorious meat-eaters -- from the Jurassic era, they report in Nature, the London scientific journal.

But that is apparently not what is getting everybody's attention. It is the feet:

A widely-accepted theory is that birds emerged from small therapod dinosaurs, developing wings from reptilian forelimbs. The earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx, lived around 150 million years ago.

But in the late 1990s, evidence came forward that appeared to punch a hole in the bird-dino idea. Therapods have digits corresponding to the first, second and third digits -- the thumb, index and middle finger -- on a human hand.

But scientists discovered that in bird embryos, all five digits start to emerge, yet only the second, third and fourth digits survive to develop into the wing structure. The first and outer digits disappear.

In other words, the 1-2-3 of dino digital orthodoxy ran into the 2-3-4 of avian digital reality. There was no way that bird's wings could have developed this way, said critics. They claimed either theropods were not the forerunners of birds -- or else theropods and birds shared some pre-dino common ancestor.

But the new study shows that Limusaurus, startlingly, has a greatly-reduced first digit, while its second, third and fourth digits are far more fully developed. This could be a sign of a process by which digit use shifted, with ceratosaurs as a sort of halfway house, argues Xu.

It could be that this was just one of many different variants of late non-avian, early avian theropods. Another piece of the puzzle.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Steve Martin on Building A Community of Evolutionary Creationists

Steve Martin has an incredibly important post over on his site An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution about the need to form a community/support structure for those of us that accept evolution but also hold firmly to the Word of God and the salvation through Jesus Christ. He correctly points out that, should our views be widely known, we run the risk of being tarred and feathered in our churches or lose our standing among scientists. Still, what he writes is becoming more and more necessary as time goes on. Here is what he writes:
I think we should publish an “Evangelical Statement on Evolution” that succinctly states that an Evangelical expression of the Christian faith, and the scientific theory of evolution are compatible. This could be modeled after the Clergy Letter Project, but crafted in a way to ensure it has an explicitly Evangelical character. The statement sponsoring signatories should include evangelical leaders from 1) a broad range of denominations 2) several different academic disciplines (at least scientists, biblical scholars and theologians - yes, we definitely need those timid theologians) and 3) a cross section of Evangelical organizations (eg. missions, umbrella groups like the EFC and the NAE). The statement should also have some mechanism for allowing the rest of us to sign on as well.
I do think there would be backlash because people do have such visceral responses to this issue but we have to combat the nonsense of folks like the ICR and Discovery Institute in some way. Nonetheless, this is an idea that is well past its time and I applaud Steve for initiating it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Adding a Blog to the Left

I am adding afarensis to the blogroll on the left hand side of the page, since it seems to be a sound, anthropologically-minded site with an interest in the creation/evolution debate as well.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Discovery Institute Files Lawsuit to Have Youtube video removed

Afarensis has a story on their site that the Discovery Institute has attempted to get the following video by djarm67 blocked from Youtube. In it, an interview between a Fox correspondent and Casey Luskin of the DI is interspersed with commentary exposing Luskin's tenuous (at best) hold on some evolutionary concepts. Here is the video.

Luskin has been a favorite pincushion for many in the scientific community because he is so vocal and so misinformed. I doubt this will go anywhere

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Who is Dennis Petersen?

A reader wrote the following note:
A customer brought his big glossy Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation book to our store for us to consider carrying it. In talking to her and glancing at the few pages I did, I could tell it was a YEC book. Afterwards I told a coworker that I decided to hold my tongue and just nod and smile. Some battles are unwinnable from the first breath. The sad thing is, I know the customer and she's a wonderful Christian. She even read Francis Collins Language of God book but returned it afterwards saying that she couldn't recommend it for the church library. Aargh! Anyway, thanks again and God bless!
So, who is Dennis Petersen? He is the creator and head of the Creation Resource Foundation, a group based out of El Dorado, California. This is their mission statement:
The Creation Resource Foundation is devoted to giving families helpful "tools" to build a confidently Bible-based "world view." This is done through multi-media seminars, newsletters, media interviews, and field trips.

Our desire is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ as the Creator to Whom every human being must be ultimately accountable.
The "Confidently Bible-based 'world view'" is certainly oriented toward the YEC model, as the reader clearly indicates, based on the encounter. There is not much to the site other than the advertisement for the book, some opportunities to line up speakeers, and some articles. The copyright note at the bottom of the page is "2004." There are eight short pieces in the "articles" section, one of which is "Why teach a GENESIS VIEW OF ORIGINS?" His position is pretty clear:
Why Should You Teach A Genesis View Of Origins?

1. It is the primary truth targeted by the enemy to undermine confidence in God's nature and His Word (2 Corinthians 10:5).

2. Jesus recognized the singular essential for belief to be absolute confidence in the foundational writings of Moses (Luke 16:31).

3. A study of created things in an atmosphere of reverence for God is essential to avoid ultimate condemnation at the judgment (Romans 1:20).

4. We are assigned the responsibility to train our children to know about and praise the works of God (Psalm 145:4; 66:3, 5).

5. An abundance of public information is either subtly or blatantly salted with atheistic, anti-creation approaches that deserve explanation and exposure.

6. Since one important activity of believers is to guard against deception, we must be specially diligent to teach regarding known popularly circulating lies (Colossians 2:8).

Note this well! Evolution is not only the most widely spread deception the world has ever known, it is also the MOST DAMAGING deception the modern world has ever encountered.!!

Evolution is the foundational secular world view for every subject of study!

It is the atheistic religion of modern scholarship!

The interesting thing is that just about every Christian on the planet agrees with the sentiments behind the six points he lists. They are foundational to the faith, although I would quibble with some of point five. The problem is that he then goes off into left field with the evolution bit. Of course, not a bit of evidence is provided for that.

As far as the book is concerned, here is a review by the Twin Cities Creation Association. This is their take:
So brace yourself. This is not just a "good" book that will be used by a few students or perused by the casual reader and later discarded for pennies at a garage sale. It will become a mainstay and hold a prominent position on the living room table or bookshelf in any home that takes God's word seriously concerning the evidence for a Bible-based world view. Its quality of presentation makes for a gift that will be cherished for many years to come by any reader (regardless of their faith) and will have a lasting impact on their life--perhaps even an eternal impact.
It was extremely hard to find a review of the book from a secular source. Answers in Genesis has reportedly reviewed it, somewhat negatively, according to some sources, but they have since taken down that page. The NCSE sheds some light on this by recounting an Answers in Genesis/ Creation Ministries International split in 2006:
There were a few clues available about the AiG/CMI split in early 2006 — on the groups' respective websites, in a mailing from CMI, and in the AiG–US Form 990 filings with the IRS, which I noted on my blog in a March 3, 2006, posting about the split (Lippard 2006a). The biggest change on the websites was that information critical of certain other creationists (such as Kent Hovind and Dennis Petersen) disappeared from the AiG website, but re-appeared on the CMI website. The CMI mailing stated that "the US ministry withdrew themselves [sic] from the international ministry group (with the exception of the UK) with an expressed desire to operate autonomously, without e.g. website content being subject to an international representative system of checks/balances/peer review involving all the other offices bearing the same 'brand name'."
So this, at least, explains why the review is gone. CMI wrote a review of the book that is very unflattering:

Despite its good intentions, it seemed to be focusing heavily on material that was incorrect, outdated by many decades, speculative, poorly documented, and usually not peer-reviewed by the creationist scientific journals. And it was precisely because the book was so well presented that we feared greatly for the many Christians who would be misled into thinking that at least most of its evidence and arguments would be sound.

We also became concerned at the surprising lack of discernment from many creation-oriented ministries, who were saying things like ‘every Christian home should have one’ and that this book is set to become ‘the new standard for creation material’. All this—and the fact that we keep getting asked about it—was ultimately why we have taken the unusual step of releasing an edited cut-down version of our inhouse review notes, which follow. These notes are a compilation of input from a number of scientists and researchers active in the creation movement (who do not all work for CMI, incidentally).

This release is not coupled with ill will of any sort. We sell many materials from various authors and organizations. If it was a matter of some minor disagreements on a few issues, we would simply not stock it. But we believe that this book has the potential to set the creation movement back by many years if we do nothing, and if undiscerning creationist groups promote it uncritically.

Note that this is neither a formal review nor a full one, these are just a few of the many problems, i.e. a sample of the main reasons we cannot recommend this book.

For another YEC organization to say this is nothing short of astounding. CMI is Carl Wieland's group, which also includes Jonathan Sarfati. The irony in the above passage is the "lack of discernment" comment, given some of the writings of both Wieland and Sarfati. Sarfati, in particular, is a supporter of the global flood. After Mark Isaak wrote his "Problems with a Global Flood," Sarfati produced a response that Kevin Henke took apart with a fine-tooth comb. For an organization that, ordinarily, has a hard time with established scientific findings, to trash a YEC-oriented book must say volumes about the book, itself.

It is also extremely troubling that this "lack of discernment" is so widespread and permeates the homeschool market, which is filled with well-meaning educators who do not have the background to evaluate a book like this.

The other question is I would have to the person who walked into the bookstore is "What was wrong with the Francis Collins book? How was it not scriptural and biblical? And how is it that you cannot recommend a book produced by an extremely well-respected scientist who was the director of the Human Genome Project but can recommend a book written by someone who's highest educational credential is a masters degree in history from the State University of New York?" I would love to see the answer to that question.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Problems on the Left

Lest we think that pseudoscience is only the hallmark of the right, with its consistent and troublesome flirtations with creationism, Steven Andrew of the Orlando Examiner reminds us that there is plenty of loopy science that is embraced by the left. He runs through the usuals: anti-vaccine supporters, 9/11 conspiracy holders and what he calls "new age quackery." He also reminds us, though, that the problem on the left is, currently, nothing like the problem on the right:
It should be noted that these groups and others like them have almost no influence over the Democratic Party and by extension public policy. But with recent electoral victories and the shift in power from the GOP to democrats, that could change. In today’s Republican Party, social conservatives who adhere to Young Earth Creationism, climate change denial, myths about Obama’s birth certificate, just to name a few, have become so numerous and well organized that otherwise well meaning and informed conservative politicians are forced to pay lip service to them. For now, their anti-cognates on the left are not nearly as well organized, numerous, or demanding. But given time, it’s entirely possible a similar phenomenon could take hold in the progressive movement and filter into the highest levels of Congress with potentially dire consequences.

John Freshwater Sues Ohio School District

John Freshwater, the school teacher that was dismissed from his job as biology teacher at the Mount Vernon High School, in Ohio, is suing the district for discrimination and defamation. The story notes:

The lawsuit denies charges that Freshwater violated district policy or taught creationism or intelligent design in his classroom and maintains that other teachers in the district have been permitted to keep Bibles on their desks.

Freshwater contends that the defendants violated his constitutional right to free speech, discriminated against him based on religion and defamed him through the investigative report.

"We are asserting that the report is not complete, is not accurate and is downright defamatory and inflammatory," R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater's Grove City-based attorney, said yesterday.

Hamilton said the suit is being filed now because a statute of limitations on the defamation claim expires June 20, the one-year anniversary of when the board voted and the investigation was released to the public.

Freshwater, if you will remember, was accused of branding crosses into students' arms and teaching creationism. I posted about this some time back. The comments to that post were particularly illuminating.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Godwin's Law has Been Demonstrated Yet Again

Godwin's Law has been demonstrated in a new post by David Klinghoffer, of BeliefNet, who is also a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. The post concerns the tragic shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. by James von Brunn, a clearly unhinged extremist who killed a security guard. Klinghoffer wastes no time in describing von Brunn in black and white terms: "James von Brunn, Evolutionist." He quotes a section of von Brunn's writings/ramblings:
As with ALL LIBERAL ideologies, miscegenation is totally inconsistent with Natural Law: the species are improved through in-breeding, natural selection and mutation. Only the strong survive. Cross-breeding Whites with species lower on the evolutionary scale diminishes the White gene-pool while increasing the number of physiologically, psychologically and behaviorally deprived mongrels.
Klinghoffer then writes:
This wacko [I love the compassionate term] despises Christianity, too, though not quite as much as he does Judaism. Like Hitler in Mein Kampf, he draws lessons from his interpretation of Darwinism. He's very big on dangers to the Aryan "gene pool." The subtitle of his book promies: "A New Hard-Hitting Exposé Of The JEW CONSPIRACY To Destroy The White Gene-Pool."
There are so many things wrong with this post, I am not sure where to start. For one thing,the whole "no Darwin, no Hitler" meme has been debunked so many times that the people that write about this subject who perpetuate it are either culpably ignorant or intentionally lying. Given the Discovery Institute's record, I am not sure which this is.

The second thing that is funny about this post is that von Brunn clearly had a very screwed up idea of what evolution is and Klinghoffer, because of his complete lack of understanding of evolutionary theory, missed it completely. If you selectively breed a population by using only a subset of that population, traits that would normally be masked in a large gene pool, get expressed. Very often these are bad traits that are lethal. Genetic history is replete with examples of societies that isolated themselves from other groups only to have very strange, not so good traits express themselves and then fix themselves in the population. The other thing that happens when you have a subset of a population isolate themselves, they become evolutionarily less viable because they cannot adapt as well to changing conditions.

James von Brunn wasn't an evolutionist. He was a white supremacist and a xenophobe. David Klinghoffer should have been smart enough to figure out the difference. Once again, crack research from the Discovery Institute!

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Be.....

It is quite possible that Betelgeuse is going to go supernova. Foxnews Science reports that the famous star has shrunk in size dramatically:

The red giant Betelgeuse, once so large it would reach out to Jupiter's orbit if placed in our own solar system, has shrunk by 15 percent over the past decade in a half, although it's just as bright as it's ever been.

"To see this change is very striking," said retired Berkeley physics professor Charles Townes, who won the 1964 Nobel Prize for inventing the laser. "We will be watching it carefully over the next few years to see if it will keep contracting or will go back up in size."

The Red Giant is nearing the end of its life and may be headed for a dramatic end. We could be in for something like SN1054 that was recorded in the year 1054 by astronomers and then became known as the Crab Nebula.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Recap: The Denver RATE Conference

I finally got around to reading the recap of the Denver RATE conference that took place on September 15, 2007 in Denver, Colorado (at a church, of course). The report is compiled from the ASA listserv and is written by Steven M. Smith, a geologist employed by the USGS. Groups like TalkOrigins refer to these creationist conferences as "Howlerfests." I am not sure where this term originated, since there are no internet references to a definition of any kind. Suffice it to say it is not a kind term. Anyway, Dr. Smith attended the Denver Rate conference and had some interesting comments to make. He takes great pains to point out that his account of the conference attempts to be bias-free which is quite admirable but leaves quite a bit of room at the end for his own thoughts, many of which are at once illuminating, depressing and dismaying:
I arrived at the church at about 8:00 to get a ticket ($25) and a seat. In the foyer of the church were two long tables with Institute of Creation Research (ICR) literature for sale. The material ranged from Duane Gish's "Are You Brainwashed" (a cartoon pamphlet in the style of Chick publications) to a variety of DVDs (Grand Canyon, Mt. St. Helens, Starlight & Time, etc.); from "Darwin's Black Box" by Michael Behe to prepackaged sets of books by Henry Morris. There was also a large selection of RATE publications – the RATE I technical volume ($35), the RATE II technical volume ($80), and the layman's summary book, a DVD, and a study guide all entitled, "Thousands ... Not Billions."

In addition to the official ICR "bookstore", there was also some information from other local Creationist groups and ministries. There was a table with newsletters from the local "Rocky Mountain Christian Fellowship" (http://www.youngearth.org). And there was another display from a local pastor and editor of "Discovery News: A Publication of Significant Archeological Discoveries" (http://www.DiscoveryNews.us). I picked up a free copy of the Discovery News. It trumpeted the news about discoveries of human footprints with dinosaur tracks along the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas; showed pictures of decaying plesiosaurus carcasses snagged by a Japanese trawler or washed up on shore; and touted the archeological discovery of Noah's Ark by Ron Wyatt. This pastor was also advertising their weekly Awana Boys & Girls Club with a Poster Coloring Contest called, "Why do we find dinosaur and human footprints together in the same rock formation?"
The amazing thing about these observations is that the Paluxy river finds were thoroughly debunked at least ten years ago by Glen Kuban, who also wrote a long debunking of the plesiosaur "carcass," which turned out to be a basking shark. Ron Wyatt's "ark" turned out to be a natural geological formation, a conclusion reached by one of the RATE participants, John Baumgardner. Amazing. So much misinformation in the space of, oh let's say ten feet.

The first speaker was Gary Parker, who, among other things, had this to say:
"The creation/evolution issue is not a side issue; it is a fundamental salvation issue. Evolution is an enormous stumbling block and 'millions-of-years' is a big part of the problem."
Jesus came as wholly God and wholly Man, lived among us, was crucified to take our sins on his back and then rose from the dead to sit on the right hand of the Father and the our questions about the age of the earth is a "fundamental salvation issue?" Either Dr. Parker's faith is so weak as to not be able to withstand modern science, or he thinks that his listeners have such a faith. He also says this:
Our job is not to interpret the Bible – we take it as it is. Interpretation means to take the words and make them mean something different."
Dr. Parker, where did Cain get his wife?

Much of the remainder of the presentations have been rebutted in a caustic article by ASA Executive Director Randy Isaacs here and more comprehensively by J.G. Meert here. The last day was given, at least partly to a question and answer session that is creationism, personified:

* Question #3 directed to Russell Humphreys: Why do you think God would cause Accelerated Nuclear Decay? Isn't this like created starlight?

Humphreys' response: "Decay happened. We don't think that He just created the evidence. Decay gives off heat. The heat may have started the process of Plate Tectonics. Maybe Accelerated Nuclear Decay is the means that God used to start the Flood. There are hints of this in the Scriptures. See the RATE I technical volume for more details.

The heat may have started the process of plate tectonics??? Where did the heat go? This is nonsensical. How would accelerated decay have started the flood? How would it have caused it to rain? Where did the water come from? Once again, where did the heat go? What hints in scripture is he referring to? For a wonderful expose of "runaway subduction" argument that is used by YECs to explain the movement of the continents, see this article by Glen Morton.

* Question #4 directed to Gary Parker: For Old-Earth Creationists, why is a local flood more important than a global one?

Parker: "I suppose that Old-Earth Creationists want the geologic column to represent millions of years of death. For some strange reason, Old-Earth Creationists don't like it when God did what He said He did. They also don't want ridicule from their peers. They want to preserve long periods of time."

Old-earth creationists have no trouble with peer-ridicule. If you want evidence for that, look at the careers of Francis Collins, Simon Conway-Morris, Francisco Ayala, Kenneth Miller and John Polkinghorne, just to name a few. As far as OEC not liking it when God did what He said He did, why did He do it and make it look like He did it in a completely different way?

* Question #5 directed to Gary Parker: What about the Big Bang?

Parker responded: "You can't compromise with Genesis. The Big Bang is supported by Old-Earth Creationists. I'll stick with Genesis, which doesn't change."

I thought this was supposed to be conference in which science was used to bolster claims of a young earth? Here, he is specifically eschewing all science in favor of a scriptural answer—and one that sidesteps the question, entirely.

His conclusions are, perhaps, the most depressing aspect of the whole report. He writes:

This conference brought out the entire gamut of the modern Young-Earth Creationist movement; from the worst to the best; from the promotion of long-refuted Paluxy River dinosaur/human footprints and rotting plesiosaur carcasses in the newspaper handed out from a local pastor's ministry, to ramblings of Gary Parker (great debate one-liners but short on substantive science), to the results of some RATE scientists (who, though I believe they are mistaken in their conclusions, are at least getting out of their armchairs and actually examining real evidence).

But even at its best, this was still a conference in support of an idea that was discredited at least 200 years ago. It is disheartening when you realize that the faithful contributed $1.25 million to this study; that most of this was spent on scientific tests that did nothing more than confirm what was already known and published in the professional literature (only the conclusions were changed to protect the innocent); and that in a highly literate nation, in a town that boasts of its highly educated workforce and technical expertise, a Young-Earth Conference could entice 800 attendees at $20-25 per head (between $16,000 & $20,000 plus book sales) to waste a sunny & gorgeous late-summer Saturday in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, just to hear this stuff.

It was disheartening to watch a non-scientific audience (or perhaps even a moderately savvy audience used to science as presented on cable TV), receive the RATE arguments as plausible and real scientific results; and to reject the results of modern science as the fruit of alleged atheistic scientists (aided by duped Christians) bent on destroying true religion.

I also found it disheartening when no one seemed to recognize the irony in two RATE statements that, though never mentioned in the same breath, were repeated in various forms throughout the conference: (1) The RATE team is confined to a 6,000-year timeframe based on their reading of God's Word; and (2) RATE research confirms that the earth is only about 6,000 years old. Because of their starting assumption, all of the admitted evidence for millions of years worth of radioactive decay was rejected, and wild unsupported hypotheses of accelerated nuclear decay (with associated fudge factors, unrecognized laws of physics, and calls for Divine intervention) were proposed that just happened to give the same 6,000 year result that they had initially assumed.

This is something that Kevin Henke and Randy Isaacs both remark upon in their respective reviews of the project. Isaacs referred to the project as one that does "not meet the criterion of integrity in science." Stevens writes:
It doesn't matter what the science actually discovers, the answer was known – without any doubts – before the first sample was collected. It is just a matter of explaining the scientific results in a framework that matches the desired conclusion.
To this, Henke writes:
Any scientist that is willing to sign away his/her integrity and freedom to explore nature for the sake of a political and/or religious cause does not deserve to be called a scientist. These oath-takers are promising not to accept any results or perform any research that challenges the credibility of the official political and/or religious dogma. Whether atheist, YEC, Lysenkoist or whatever, those that submit to the oaths of the party line are ultimately unable to adapt to any radical paradigm shifts that may occur in our views of nature. Because the members of the RATE committee have signed away their academic freedom for the comfort of Biblical dogmatism, it's not surprising that their "research" plans, as outlined in Vardiman et al. (2000), are crippled and full of faulty arguments and flawed experimental procedures.
Everything that is wrong with creationism can be explained in this recap—from complete disregard of scientific evidence to contorted reasoning to cram modern finding into the 6 ky old box, to the deception of continuing to promote discredited ideas. This is anti-science at its worst.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New Trustee Will Not Push Creationism, She Says

Katherine Leal Unmuth of the The Dallas Morning News has a news story on a new Irving school district trustee who claims to be a creationist but who is more reticent about expressing her views:
New Irving school board trustee Heather Ashley says that she is a creationist and supports the teaching of intelligent design – though she knows she can't have any impact at the local level on the teaching of evolution.

"I am not going to, as a school board member, set curriculum that teaches only one point of view," she said. "I think we should have the possibility of teachers exposing students to different perspectives, which should include intelligent design."

That view comes at an interesting time in the evolution debate.

The state Senate rejected Republican Don McLeroy's nomination to chairman of the State Board of Education recently after Democrats said he lacked leadership while serving as chairman in the "endless culture wars" over teaching evolution. He's a critic of evolution.

She appears to have been reading the literature of the DI, with regard to the "alternative views" language. It is clear, based on other opinions, that she has an uphill battle ahead of her:
René Castilla, chairman of the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce education committee, which has been critical of the Irving school board in the past, said he hopes that Ashley understands that the state curriculum calls for teaching just evolution.

"As long as she understands she's not going to be in any position to make a difference, that's fine," said Castilla, a North Lake College dean and a former DISD board president. "She's got a lot to learn. She's probably going to learn it's going to be hard to impose her religious views in a public school system."
That this would show up as a story in the Dallas Morning News shows that Texas continues to be a lightning rod for this issue.

Fossil Collecting at Sharktooth Hill

David Perlman of SFGate has a story on the incredibly rich fossil remains in the Central Valley, near Bakersfield, California:
The area was shallow and rich with sea life. The marine animals lived and died there by the millions for as long as 700,000 years, the scientists say. And there is no evidence, they say, that the animals all died at once from some lethal red tide or in a violent earthquake. The loss of life there was gradual. Eventually, sediments buried the bones and created a fossil-rich underwater shelf that is arguably the richest "bone bed" in the world, the scientists say.

Much, much later, earthquakes heaved the undersea burial ground upward as the restless San Andreas Fault lurched and lurched again. Even more fossil layers were uncovered as sea-level surges during a long period of global warming finally subsided, the scientists said.
There are probably other areas like this. It is nice to see so much in the way of fossils. How important is this area?
"It's as important to science and the public as the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado, and the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles," he said.

In fact, the entire fossil bed appears to be huge, Pyenson said. It lies exposed to the surface for nearly 10 miles, he said. But from the team's surveys and information from oil drilling crews, it probably covers more than 20 square miles at the very least - much of it in private hands, he said.

"It's a fantastic natural feature, and our work there is a synthesis of evidence about the Earth's history, the ocean's history and the history of biology," Pyenson said.
More pieces of the puzzle.

Palaeontology is Not Cheap, Part II

Matthew Brown of SFGate has a story of commercial fossil hunter Nathan Murphy, who got caught red-handed pilfering dinosaur remains on private land:
In 2000, Murphy discovered a mummified, 77-million-year-old duckbilled hadrosaur known as Leonardo, which is considered the best-preserved dinosaur in the world.

The bones of the turkey-size prehistoric raptor at the heart of his theft conviction were found by one of Murphy's workers in 2002. Authorities have seized the bones.

Murphy had sought to have molds of the fossils made that could have brought up to $400,000 in the sale of casts on the retail fossil market, investigators said.

Since he was charged last year, Murphy had claimed honest mistakes led to the investigation. But in an interview Monday, he acknowledged concealing the truth about where the raptor bones were found - and asserted that he is not the only fossil hunter to do so.
As I mentioned in my initial post on this matter, greed for what can be done with these fossils can outweigh any sort of loyalty to what ought to be done with them. Acclaimed fossil hunter or not, he should have known better.

Fossil Whale Remains in Santa Cruz, California

Palaeontologists are trying to extract a 5 my old fossil whale from the rock matrix around it. Here is the story with accompanying video. Interestingly, it plays into my "Palaeontology is not cheap" posts in the following way:
Scientists want to keep the public away from the site as they continue to ensure the safety of the skeleton, making the dig going at the Santa Cruz County beach something of a noisy secret.Some locals know scientists are digging up what they hope will be remains of an ancient whale. So far, paleontologists have been able to preserve both the secret location and the five million year old bones.
As sure as the location is revealed, some jackass will try to swipe some of the remains. This is a critical time for whale evolution.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Evolution: The Book to End All Books

FSU News has a report on a new book that has been written by two FSU Researchers called Evolution: The First Four Billion Years:
"Evolution: The First Four Billion Years" is the name of a new, nearly 1,000-page book edited by Joseph Travis, the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Biological Science and dean of Florida State's College of Arts and Sciences, and Michael Ruse, the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and director of the university's Program in the History and Philosophy of Science.

Working together over more than six years, Travis and Ruse enlisted some of the world's top scholars from a variety of fields — genetics, paleontology, epidemiology, theology and philosophy, to name a few — to write a series of "big picture" essays describing their particular areas of expertise as they relate to evolution. What emerges is a multifaceted picture of what is perhaps the most discussed and debated scientific concept of the past 150 years.
Ruse' presence will necessarily add a metaphysical element to the book, which he, as much, admits:
"I'm a historian and philosopher, Joe's a biologist, and we collaborated," he said. "A lot of the articles in the volume reflect this interdisciplinary perspective. We have history, we have philosophy, we have religion, but we also have world-class biologists like Francisco Ayala, who's one of the leading, still-active evolutionary biologists today."
Ayala is an evolutionary biologist and a former Dominican Priest who, much in the same vein as John Polkinghorne, Simon Conway-Morris and Francis Collins, simply argues that evolution is God's way of ordering the universe.

Sounds like a good coffee-table book to me.

The HeraldSun Profiles Michael Dowd

Bryan Patterson of the HeraldSun of Melbourne profiles Michael Dowd, and during the interview, Dowd reveals more of his background as a creationists than he does in his book Thank God for Evolution (which I am still plowing through. It is dense). Dowd is quoted thus:
Growing up in a Catholic family, Dowd was taught evolution was of the devil.

He believed Darwinism was the root of most social problems, and was deeply concerned for my friends and family, especially those "caught in the snares of a secular humanistic worldview".

"I even distributed anti-evolution tracts and was eager to debate anyone who thought the world was more than 6000 years old."

The shift in his thinking came in stages. He came to trust his religious teachers before he knew they held evolutionary world views.

He talks of no longer opposing evolution, "but wholeheartedly embracing it as the Great Story of 14 billion years of divine grace and creativity".
Read the whole thing.