Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Tooth in Israel

A research team from Tel Aviv University is touting a new find as being from anatomically modern Homo sapiens. The story, from the AP has this to say:
A Tel Aviv University team excavating a cave in central Israel said Monday they found teeth about 400,000 years old. The earliest Homo sapiens remains found until now are half that old.

Archaeologist Avi Gopher said Monday further research is needed to solidify the claim. If it does, he says, "this changes the whole picture of evolution."
The story is a bit confused since Neandertals are considered Homo sapiens as well, just not modern ones. It is ordinarily not very easy to distinguish between Neandertal teeth and modern teeth, except for size and that is not always a good indicator. Ordinarily, you have to have more diagnostic areas of the skeleton. Given that the earliest moderns we now have come from the site of Herto, dated to 160 ky, it is not likely that the tooth is modern. If it were, it would mean that there is a modern populaton running around during a time when the transition from Homo erectus/ergaster to archaic Homo sapiens (Neandertals and their kin) was occurring everywhere else. It would also mean that the Levantine populations that followed them 300k years later were more archaic than those represented by the tooth. That would be a tad peculiar.

Now playing: Anthony Philllips & Harry Williamson - Movement One - The First Year
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sorry for the light posting. I am working on the next series of BioLogos posts. I will get back in the saddle soon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Post at CFSI

My new post is up at Center for Faith and Science International. It briefly covers the evolutionary evidence of the transition from dinosaurs to birds and the evidence of marsupial radiation. Next, I will touch on the evidence from genetics.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

BioLogos Post

My second BioLogos post is up. It starts the series of posts on the human fossil record. There will wind up being six or seven posts in the series.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

William Dembski Posts "Prepared Remarks" for Debate with Christopher Hitchens

William Dembski has posted the remarks he gave during his debate on whether or not God is good with Christopher Hitchens. It is here. He begins:
Although I could rehearse standard arguments for God’s existence, I want in this debate to take a different tack. Christopher Hitchens disbelieves in God’s existence. Why? Lack of evidence and evils perpetrated in the name of religion, he says. Yet his book God Is Not Great reveals a more basic reason. Hitchens, as a scientific reductionist, believes science has given us new knowledge that destroys religious faith. What is this new knowledge? According to Hitchens, it is Darwinian evolution.

You may ask what a chapter on evolution is doing in a book defending atheism. At the end of that chapter, Hitchens explains: “We no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious.” Let this sink in. Religion, according to Hitchens, renders biological origins mysterious. But now that Darwin has come and shown how natural selection explains biological origins, all is clear. Fellow atheist Richard Dawkins puts it more memorably: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
The problem is that Dembski then falls directly into Hitchens' trap. Ultimately, Intelligent Design rests on a "God of the Gaps" understanding of science. Defenders of ID have never been able to satisfactorily evade this charge. This is what drives the Signature in the Cell argument and the various arguments involving irreducible complexity: we don't understand how it could have happened given our understanding of evolutionary theory, therefore, evolution cannot explain it and it must have been created de novo by God. Hitchens' argument is a reverse of this: we CAN explain everything by science, therefore, God does not exist. Dembski attempts to rebut Hitchens' points one at a time but by doing so, gives credence and legitimacy to an argument that, from a scientific perspective, is wanting logically.

For the rest of the post, he makes unwarranted assumptions, misrepresents palaeontologists and badly characterizes evolution. For example, he writes:
It’s no coincidence that Richard Dawkins, the world’s best known atheist, is also an evolutionary biologist. Atheists, like everyone else, need a creation story.
How does he know this is not a coincidence. Is it a coincidence that Denis Lamoreux and I are evolutionary creationists? If not, why not? This is yet another persistent myth that all that accept evolution are atheists. I am quite sure that, like Dawkins and Coyne, some are but it does not follow that one will be if they accept evolution. That is facile.

After three evidence rebuttals, he remarks:
I know what you’re all thinking. Since the evidence for evolution is so underwhelming and since Hitchens has hitched his wagon to evolution, shouldn’t he now be ready to abandon evolution and reconsider theism? Yet this is precisely what he will not do. His atheism demands a materialistic form of evolution, and there’s only one going theory of it, namely Darwinism. The alternative, which places us here as the result of design, is for him unthinkable.
Dembski thinks that, since he has successfully rebutted three arguments for evolution, out of the thousands of arguments that one could make, that the evidence is “underwhelming.” This is reminiscent of creationist tactics, where one supposed problem for evolution overturns the whole applecart. Memo to William Dembski: it just ain't so.

But it is worse than that. Of his three “rebuttals,” he gets at least two of them wrong. First, he claims that “junk DNA” isn't junk, but is very useful. He then cites a forthcoming book by Jonathan Wells, also of the DI in support of this position. Steve Matheson, over at Quintessence of Dust, has a very good series on junk DNA, which starts here. About this he writes:
My assertion in these next 3 posts on "junk DNA" is this in a nutshell: the writing of the DI and RTB on the subject of "junk DNA" is a melange of half-truths, non sequiturs, quote-mined proof texts and outright fabrications that adds up to one of the clearest examples of folk science that I can imagine.
The second rebuttal he gets wrong deals with a direct quote from palaeontologist Peter Ward, where Ward appears to show that the Cambrian Explosion was largely inexplicable in evolutionary terms. This is a favorite canard of the Discovery Institute. Dembski even states that he is not taking Ward's statement out of context. Unfortunately, as Jason, over at Evolutionblog shows in devestating fashion, that is exactly what he does. Worse, Dembski has used this particular quote by Ward before and, since Jason's post is five years old, we see that Dembski has not bothered to revise his statements.

It is one thing to play into someone's hand when arguing with them. It is another to do so and then proceed to get major facts and positions wrong. Hitchens' position that God is not good is a theological question, not a scientific one and Dembski handles himself well on it but the damage has been done. Until he is willing to honestly address the data, the second half of his remarks will ring hollow.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Winter's Thaw
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Slightly Off-Topic: The State of Science Education

I had a good belly laugh this morning reading this story on Watts Up With That? It seems that someone had a good bit of fun at the Cancun climate summit that is currently going on by circulating a petition to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide. Here is the video:

The amazing thing about this, and the Penn and Teller video that Anthony Watts also posts is that NO ONE ASKED what dihydrogen monoxide was. They just happily signed the petition. No scientific curiosity was expressed whatsoever. To them, this isn't a scientific issue, it is a political cause. Amazing.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Joseph Gerth: Trouble Ahead for Ark Park

Joseph Gerth, writing in the Louisville Courier-Journal, suggests that there may be trouble ahead for Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear due to his support for the Noah's Ark theme park. About Beshear, he writes:
He seems to be courting a segment of the population that is not likely to back a Democrat — especially this Democrat. Remember, it was Beshear, who as attorney general in 1981, wrote that the Ten Commandments had to come down in Kentucky classrooms.

The liberals and moderates who carried him to office in 2007 don't seem too thrilled about the whole thing.

Lexington-based blogger Joe Sonka has dubbed Beshear a “Flintstone Truther,” because of his support for the project and the fact that in the classic 1960s-era cartoon, Fred and Wilma and Barney and Betty lived alongside tame dinosaurs.

And on the “Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC, the host poked fun at Beshear and deadpanned that she wondered where they are going to put thousands of species of termites on a wooden ark.

Beshear is trying to paint his support for the project as a job-creation issue — saying that it would generate $250 million for the state's economy.

Beshear's spokeswoman said it would bring “a boatload of jobs” to the state, while one Capitol wag joked that Beshear had promised to bring more jobs to the state “come hell or high water.”
This story is getting a good deal of airplay and most people are generally unsympathetic. This kind of thing is business-as-usual for Ken Ham, who has nothing to lose by this. For Beshear, this Ark may turn out to be a spruce goose.

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Louisiana Adopts Science Textbooks

After months of deliberation, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has adopted new science textbooks for the public schools. Mike Hasten of the Shreveport Times writes:

Pastors from several churches argued on both sides of the issue.

University Presbyterian Pastor Patricia Snyder of Baton Rouge said she didn’t want to attend the meeting but she had to speak out against “attempts to make the Bible a science textbook.” She urged BESE to approve the textbooks supported by two review panels “so the state can move forward.”

Jesse Burgoyne, pastor of the Accountability Church in Watson, urged the board not to order the books, agreeing with John Yeats of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Yeats said a delay would give publishers time to incorporate provisions of the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows for the introduction of alternatives to evolution.

It is encouraging that the BESE elected not to consider the LSEA, an act that should be repealed in any event.

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Small People, Big Bird

The BBC is reporting on a fossil discovery on the island of Flores, the last known home of Homo floresiensis. The size of the bird: 1.8 meters tall. Emma Brennand writes:

The bones, thought to be belong to a single stork, are between 20,000 to 50,000 years old, having been found in sediments dating to that age.

The giant bird is the latest extreme-sized species to be discovered once living on the island, which was home to dwarf elephants, giant rats and out-sized lizards, as well as humans of small stature.

"I noticed the giant stork bones for the first time in Jakarta, as they stood out from the rest of the smaller bird bones. Finding large birds of prey is common on islands, but I wasn't expecting to find a giant marabou stork," Dr Meijer told the BBC.

She also writes that it might have been able to prey on the hominins, but there is no evidence that it did. What the heck is in the water out there?

Now playing: Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Fanfare For The Common Man
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Quote of the Day

Conan O'Brien brought up the Ark theme park in his monologue on December 6. Here is what he had to say:
"Developers in Kentucky plan on opening a creationist theme park. Yeah. When asked what the creationist theme park would look like, developers said it's still evolving."
Hat tip to the Kentucky Democrat.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Keith Miller Article on the Cambrian Explosion

BioLogos has an article on the Cambrian Explosion by Keith Miller, a geologist at Kansas State University. This is an article that should be read by all supporters of DI, especially those that argue that evolution cannot explain the “explosion.” Among the things Miller writes is this:
The earliest diverse fossil invertebrate communities of the Cambrian are represented by the Chengjiang, in China. These deposits are dated at 525-520 million years. The famous Burgess Shale is considerably younger, dating at about 505 million years, and the end of the Cambrian Period is set at 490 million years. The Cambrian Period thus lasted for 52 million years. To put this in perspective, the time elapsed since the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous has been 65 million years. The Cambrian was a very long period of time.
This is the point driven home by Prothero in his excellent book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. The gross oversimplification that evolution cannot explain these lifeforms is often based on an incorrect understanding of the length of the Cambrian and what came before it just after the end of the Cryogenian. This is the basis behind the Discovery Institute film Darwin's Dilemma. The BioLogos piece is the first of a series so stop back to see where it is going.

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Noah's Ark: The Construction Phase

Skip, over at Panda's Thumb, has a humorous post about the new theme park in Kentucky being built around the theme of Noah's Ark. He writes:

I’ve created a new web site,, to track the progress and construction of Answers in Genesis’s latest assault on common sense and good taste, the Ark Encounter theme park. I’ll aggregate news stories, blog posts, and other coverage on one site where visitors can survey reactions from the media, the public, and other sources.

Anyone coming across information related to Ark Encounter can forward it to me for posting, skip (AT) penguinsites (DOT) com.

He also has a challenge on his site that I am quite sure Ken Ham will not rise to—build his own ark and test the model given in Genesis.

I have always had another challenge in the back of my mind: get a large pool of some kind and, over the course of forty days, fill it with one part water and three parts mud, shake it up really well, let it settle out for a year in the outdoors and see what you have. I can guaran-dang-tee you won't have shale, granite, anthracite, chert, flint, quartzite or any of the other rocks that take intense pressure or heat to form. To my knowledge, no one has tested that either.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips & Harry Williamson - Movement Three - The Hunt
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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Arsenic and Bad Press

Well, the fallout from the NASA arsenic paper continues, revealing just how self-correcting the scientific process really is. David Dobbs of Wired has a follow-up post. He writes:
UC Davis’s Jonathan Eisen, who knows his extremophile bacteria and and his evo-sci quite well, tweeted that he “was gonna write about bad science & arsenic but no need – Rosie Redfield has all you need.” Evolutionary biologist John Hawks thought the Science paper clearly lacked the necessary controls to draw its conclusions. And Alex Bradley concluded that “this study lacks any real evidence for arsenate-based DNA; unfortunately these exciting claims are very very shaky.”

If the paper is as weak as these critiques hold, NASA appears to have been not just overzealous but reckless — and Science not only went along for the ride, cheering wildly, but put all the gas in the car.

For a technical response to the paper, Rosie Redfield's blog post is getting much airplay. She is pretty harsh in her judgment. I know next to nothing about microbiology, so don't have the expertise to evaluate it. It should be interesting to see how this plays out, though.

Monday, December 06, 2010

New Noah's Ark Theme Park in Kentucky

Great Googlymoogly! It seems that the Creation Museum was not enough to draw tourism, now the Governor of Kentucky has announced that a huge park will be built by 2014 around the theme of Noah's Ark. The article, in the New York Daily News, by Nina Mandell, has this to say:
The park, which Kentucky expects to draw more than a million visitors each year, is projected to cost $150 million, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

"Make no mistake about it," Beshear said, according to the paper. "This is a huge deal."

The amusement park will include a 500-foot-long wooden replica of Noah’s Ark complete with live animals, according to the project's website.

"We are constructing a full-scale, all-wood ark based on the dimensions provided in the Bible (Genesis 6), using the long cubit, and in accordance with sound established nautical engineering practices of the era," wrote Ark Encounters, one of the groups behind the project.

The ark is a collaboration between Ark Encounters LLC, a for-profit company, and a non-profit company, Answers in Genesis, which runs the Creation Museum — a museum that educates children about the Bible through interactive exhibits in Petersburg, KY.
Interestingly, the endorsement by Steve Beshear, the governor of Kentucky gives the reader yet another opportunity to play "Name that Party." Ordinarily, if you look at stories involving Republicans and creationism, the "R" is featured very prominently. After I read this story, I had to go hunt up Steve Beshear's party affiliation. It is not often that a Democrat supports an initiative like this in such a high-profile way. And, lest you thought that it was a completely done deal, the article adds this:
While Beshear and other local politicians are convinced the park will float through any regulatory battles, some are questioning whether the millions in tax breaks that the group will receive for tourism violates the separation between church and state.
Beshear took an active part in that request, as well, pushing the positive economic impact for Northern Kentucky. If it is awarded tax breaks, expect the lawsuits to fly. Once again, the scientific world looks curiously at Kentucky and scratches its collective head.
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Friday, December 03, 2010

Life, Maybe Not So Alien

I should stick to palaeontology. The story about alien life below this was written on the strength of one article, and, as Steve Matheson correctly put it, I should have gone to some other sources. This passage from a Discovery News article puts things into perspective:
The discovery is amazing, but it’s easy to go overboard with it. For example, this breathlessly hyperbolic piece, published last year, suggests that finding such bacteria would be “one of the most significant scientific discoveries of all time”. It would imply that “Mono Lake was home to a form of life biologically distinct from all other known life on Earth” and “strongly suggest that life got started on our planet not once, but at least twice”.
The results do nothing of the sort. For a start, the bacteria – a strain known as GFAJ-1 – don’t depend on arsenic. They still contain detectable levels of phosphorus in their molecules and they actually grow better on phosphorus if given the chance. It’s just that they might be able to do without this typically essential element – an extreme and impressive ability in itself
This puts it into better perspective. This is big news because it does provide us with a glimpse into some different evolutionary pathways that are unexpected. In a sense, this is like the microbes that can survive in hyperthermophilic environments in that it is just not something that would be expected. Sorry for jumping on the bandwagon. I should have known better.

Now playing: Alex De Grassi - Western
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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Alien Life Discovered

Well, this will rewrite a few books. Gizmodo is reporting that NASA is about to release findings of a new bacteria that was discovered at Mono Lake in California. They write:
NASA has discovered a new life form—called GFAJ-1—that doesn't share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth. It's capable of using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes. This changes everything. Updated.

NASA is saying that this is "life as we do not know it". The reason is that all life on Earth is made of six components: Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same.

In a surprising discovery, NASA scientist Felisa Wolfe Simon and her team have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the newly discovered microorganism—called GFAJ-1 and found in Mono Lake, California—uses the poisonous arsenic for its building blocks.
This is huge. It is alien life that either developed in isolation from the rest of life on this planet for the last 3.8 BILLION years (unlikely) or it is literally alien in origin. Here is the NASA story by Dwayne Browne and Cathy Weselby. They write:
"The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction," said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake."
We will see how this gets picked up by different organizations in the next few weeks. It has amazing implications for exobiology.

Now playing: Ira Stein & Russel Walder - Medieval Memory II
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Evolutionary Christianity

There will be a free online discussion over at Michael Dowd's site on “Evolutionary Christianity” on December 4, with some big wigs in the field, including one of my favorites, Kenneth Miller. People can sign up at the site here. Matt Young of Panda's Thumb writes that he received a letter from Michael Zimmerman with some additional information:
This tele-series (telephone & computer, not television) will feature Michael Dowd and 30 other leaders in the nexus of science and religion (a number of whom who are Clergy Letter Project members), including two Nobel laureates, three Templeton Prize-winners, and more than two dozen others who exemplify by word and deed that religious faith can be positively strengthened and enriched by a science-honoring, evolutionary view of the world.

Some of the things that will be discussed include:

• How scientific and historical evidence, interpreted meaningfully, can enhance our lives and faith;

• Compassionate responses to both those who reject science and those who reject religion;

• How an evolutionary view of human nature can validate and deepen our appreciation of scriptural and traditional wisdom;

• And much more . … [ellipsis in original]
I have signed up, although with four small kids and many time commitments, I am not sure I will be able to participate. It was gratifying to hear from Michael that he is doing much better and is cancer-free. Matt also notes that this is being co-sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project. I wonder how many of the people from the DI and RTB will weigh in.

Hat tip to Panda's Thumb.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Slacktivist Has an Interesting Point

Slacktivist has a post on the Genesis “Account.” He writes that it is no such thing:
An account is testimony, witnesses telling what they have seen. The speaker or writer -- the one giving the account -- does not need to be a direct witness herself. She may be a journalist or a historian compiling the testimony of others. But without some basis in such testimony from actual witnesses we haven't got what we can call an account.

When I point this out -- that the story in Genesis 1 is not an "account" -- the creation-ists get upset with me, as though I were attacking the book of Genesis. But I'm not attacking it, I'm defending it. Genesis 1 does not itself claim to be an account. It does not present itself as such and it does not willingly comply with those who would treat it as such. To read the story as it is, in the way that it presents itself, cannot be an attack. It's far more hostile to the text to declare, with no basis from the text itself, that it must be read as something it does not and cannot claim to be.
He also notes that other examples of accounts in the Bible have eye witnesses, especially the acts of Jesus, while the creation story does not. Is this semantic? Perhaps not since it goes to the heart of the “Were you there?” argument of Ken Ham's, who then states that we have God's account. In point of fact, no one was. While I have no doubt that the book of Genesis is what God handed down to Moses, in a sense, we are taking Moses' word for it.

Now playing: Emily Remler - Sweet Georgie Fame
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

John Freshwater Case Settled

The Mount Vernon News reports that the John Freshwater "branding" case has been settled. Pamela Schehl reports:
The lawsuit was originally filed in the U.S District Court on June 13, 2008, and included as defendants the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education and various school employees. The suit alleged that Freshwater violated the constitutional rights of Zachary Dennis and those of his parents, Stephen and Jennifer Dennis, by, among other things, displaying religious items in his classroom, by teaching intelligent design and by expressing his own religious beliefs to students in the classroom.

The board’s portion of the lawsuit was resolved on or about Aug. 26, 2009, and Freshwater was the sole remaining defendant.

With Judge Hoover’s ruling last Tuesday, the suit against Freshwater was officially settled. The settlement of $475,000 to the Dennis family includes $25,000 for attorney fees, $150,000 each to Stephen and Jennifer, and $150,000 to be used for an annuity for Zachary.
What effect this will have on the curriculum in Mount Vernon is anybody's guess. Creationism always manages to find its way in, somehow.

Hat Tip to the NCSE.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Catch You When You Fall (1978)
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Monday, November 29, 2010

New Post for CFSI is up

My most recent post for the Center for Faith and Science International is up. It, and the next two will cover different kinds of evidence for evolution.
Wow, that was a long break. I am working on my third post for CFSI and revising my second BioLogos post, which I hope will be up later this week or next. Sorry for the absence.

Friday, November 19, 2010

New Issue of Journal of Evolution: Education and Outreach Deals with Human Evolution

The new issue of Journal of Evolution: Education and Outreach deals specifically with human evolution and contains several general review articles about the australopithecines and the emergence of Homo. It is part of the Springer Verlag package to which most large universities have access. The University of Tennessee has this.

Education Week: Evolution Education Working

According to an article in Education Week, the fallout from the Dover trial in 2005 has been bad for creationism and intelligent design. Sarah Sparks writes:
The National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, and other groups have increased research investment on identifying essential concepts for teaching evolution, including creating the Evolution Education Research Centre, a partnership of Harvard, McGill, and Chapman universities, and launching the first peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the subject, Journal of Evolution: Education and Outreach.
The journal was free for its first two years but now is behind a subscription wall. It is a top notch journal, though and worth seeking out. Sparks goes on to describe the different programs that are being implemented throughout the country but cautions that there are still problems:

Teacher education also has opened up as a new front in the battle over evolution in the classroom, according to Mr. Eberle. The Institute for Creation Research, which promotes creation-based science teaching, recently moved from California to Texas to fight for state accreditation to establish a master’s degree program in science education. Also, Louisiana has passed an “academic freedom” law protecting teachers who supplement their standard science textbooks with other materials; a state committee explicitly rejected a move to bar creationist or intelligent design materials from those supplements.

“If you take this term of ‘academic freedom’ more broadly, does it mean a teacher can teach anything?” Mr. Eberle asked. “It’s been narrowly applied to evolution, and I think it’s another term to accomplish the same goal” to undermine the scientific validity of evolution.

It should be noted that the ICR failed miserably in its bid to get accredited in Texas and has closed their "graduate program" in science. Interestingly, while there are many teachers that are skittish about teaching evolution, if you asked them if they were going to teach transmutation of gold or that the earth is flat, they would respond negatively. Why people feel different about evolution lies mostly in their lack of understanding of what the theory does and does not explain and deep-seated fears that it will upend their faith. The problem is that, if you are a young earth creationist, it will.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Modern Humans Have Slower Developmental Timing than Neandertals

ScienceDaily has a story in which a synchrotron x-ray machine has revealed that Neandertals had faster developmental timing patterns than modern humans and that this may have given modern human an advantage. They write:
A remarkable finding of this five-year study is that Neanderthals grow their teeth significantly faster than members of our own species, including some of the earliest groups of modern humans to leave Africa between 90-100,000 years ago. The Neanderthal pattern appears to be intermediate between early members of our genus (e.g., Homo erectus) and living people, suggesting that the characteristically slow development and long childhood is a recent condition unique to our own species. This extended period of maturation may facilitate additional learning and complex cognition, possibly giving early Homo sapiens a competitive advantage over their contemporaneous Neanderthal cousins.
Or it may just be an evolutionary adaptation to a warmer climate and less of a need to maintain selection for a quicker development. This is especially true in light of the fact that there is no evidence that modern humans were any more intelligent than their Neandertal precursors. As I have said before, if you lived in a world in which the tundra line was at Vienna, you'd have a hard time adapting, too.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Steve Matheson: More on BioLogos and Chrisian Unity

Steve Matheson over at Quintessence of Dust has a follow-up post to his original musings about the Vibrant Dance conference, in which the Discovery Institute revealed itself to be nothing more than a hack organization, interested not in open dialogue but bitter debate. Steve clarifies some things:
What I'm trying to do here is make it clear that I don't think that Darrel Falk and Dennis Venema and Deb Haarsma were mistaken to participate in the Vibrant Dance or to call for respectful engagement with those there who disagree with them. I'm saying that they must make it clear that the DI and RTB regularly violate standards of intellectual integrity. Both the DI and RTB promulgate falsehoods, and they do it knowingly. It should go without saying that such behavior is unacceptable among self-described scholars; that the scholars in question are Christians, functioning as public Christian apologists who seek to influence the thought and actions of millions of fellow Christians, only amplifies this concern.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Discovery Institute has no intention of treating the data in an honest fashion. The first hints of that came with the Wedge Document and were on startling display at the Dover trial in 2005. Steve has stated in the past that he still holds out hope for RTB, although even here there seem to be problems of integrity.

Perhaps the odd thing about Reasons to Believe is that they treat the astrophysical data in an honest fashion and yet make a complete hash of the biological data and evolutionary theory. It is as if, when it comes to anything involving humans directly, the blinders go on. The Discovery Institute is a one-trick pony. Anything not dealing with evolution is ignored and then the evidence for evolution is twisted and misinterpreted.

It is not clear that there will a change anytime soon regarding any interactions between groups like BioLogos, which seeks to actually honestly interpret the data in a way that is in keeping with the integrity demanded by both science and a Christian walk and groups like RTB and the Discovery Institute, which do not seem to.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Guitar Song (Demo, 1973)
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

The 2010 Elections and Science

Alasdair Wilkins over at io9 has been wondering the same thing that I have: how will the Republican takeover of congress and the local statehouses affect science policy. Here is what he writes:
The Republican platform, "The Pledge to America", never mentions the words "science", "technology", "NASA", "research and development", "evolution" or "intelligent design", "climate change", and certainly not "global warming."

That isn't, in and of itself, a bad thing. It just means the 2010 election cycle wasn't predicated on scientific issues. It does, however, make it rather more challenging to predict how government and science are going to interact over the next two years. And while it would be easy to say the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives is bad for science, the truth is a bit more complicated than that.
Wilkins agrees with most other pundits that, in so much as the Republicans turn their thoughts to science, they will focus on climate change and that this area of research will be hit hard. Here, the attempts to link attacks on climate change skepticism with attacks on ID will fall flat. The brouhaha from the emails at East Anglia last year still has legs and will be front and center in any deliberations involving climate change and funding. It doesn't help that many of the detractors of anthropogenic global warming are, themselves, climate scientists. But what about evolution?

Republicans have taken a stand that is certainly non-scientific and arguably anti-scientific. And it doesn't help that other planks of the Republican platform, such as their opposition to evolution, fall so ridiculously far outside the scientific mainstream. (Thankfully, evolution almost certainly won't come up in the next two years. That's the sort of thing that only gets aired out when Republicans have complete control of Congress, and even then it's tough to say what they could actually do about it.)
It is not from congress that the problems for evolution will come. Congress has rarely said anything about evolution and that is not likely to change. The problems will come from the local statehouses—where Republicans have taken 680 seats from Democrats. Even under a Democratic house and president, we still had attacks on evolution education in Louisiana, Utah, Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Pennsylvania. Given that there is much data linking anti-evolutionism with being a member of the Republican party, these will not only continue, their proponents will be bolder. Even as the Republican Congress debates climate change on the national level, I suspect that their supporters will be debating evolution at a local level.

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Laetoli Footprints To Be Visible Again is reporting that the Laetoli footprint tracks, produced by two side-by-side hominids some 3.6 million years ago, will be visible again and open for tourists. The author writes:
The state's announcement to open the site may see the beginning of the end for stirring debate over how to best protect the 3.6-millionyear- old tracks. In recent years, experts have been expressing fear for oldest human footprints fossilized tracks preservation, saying weathering has begun to undermine those protections, raising concerns that the prints preserved in a volcanic ash bed could be harmed by erosion, livestock or humans. It has prompted Tanzanian anthropologist Charles Musiba to call for the creation of a new museum to reveal and display the historic prints. But foreign anthropologists question this idea ... as they did when the tracks were covered ... because Laetoli is several hours' drive into Ngorongoro Conservation Area, making guarding and maintaining any facility extremely difficult.

A file photo of the tracks is above. It would be a shame if they cannot be saved. Even though we have casts of them, the original is priceless.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More Trouble in Louisiana

2The Advocate is reporting that textbooks approved last month by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in Louisiana are being criticized for putting too much emphasis on evolution. Will Sentell writes:
Critics contend some biology I, biology II and other school books under scrutiny for public classrooms put too much credence in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Gee, wonder why that could be? Sentell continues:
“It is like Charles Darwin and his theory is a saint,” said Winston White, of Baton Rouge, who filed a comment with state officials reviewing the textbooks.

“You can’t touch it,” White said.

But others said the textbook criticism is being led by the Louisiana Family Forum, which touts itself as a group that promotes traditional values.

“They had their people going through the books, writing up complaints and sending them,” said Barbara Forrest, a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and co-founder of the LA Coalition for Science.
It is a bit scary to think of folks at the Louisiana Family Forum going through textbooks to find problems with evolution, when it has become clear that, given their reliance on the ICR and AiG, they have little understanding of the subject in the first place.

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The Fountains of the Deep?

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.” (Genesis 7: 11-12, NIV)

A story from the Washington Post reports that scientists have seriously underestimated the amount of water underneath the surface of the earth. How did it get there? Here is one idea:
When our solar system began to take shape, roughly 4.5 billion years ago, it was a disk-shaped cloud of gas and dust spinning around a dense core, which became the sun. Close to this core, the cloud was very hot - too hot for compounds such as H2O to condense, so they got blown outward by a powerful solar wind. When they got far enough from the nascent sun, they condensed into water and ice. This happened beyond the orbits of the inner planets, including Earth, which coalesced out of heavier dust particles.
Okay, so how did it get under the earth's surface? The original theory involved cometary impacts, but that left too many unanswered questions. The story continues:
Michael Drake of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson, thinks there's a better explanation. The majority of Earth's water, Drake believes, was there from the beginning, despite Earth's having formed inside the solar system's snow line. He and his colleagues have speculated that individual molecules of water vapor could have glommed onto dust particles inside the snow line, much as dew forms on grass. Then, when the dust particles drifted together into larger and larger objects, eventually growing to become the inner planets, the moisture stayed with them. Eventually, there was enough to form Earth's oceans.
So are these the “Fountains of the Deep?” Well, if flood geology hinged on only this one hypothesis, that might be reasonable. But it doesn't. The source of the flood's water is only one problem that flood geologists have to overcome out of hundreds that they cannot. Besides which, the amount of water necessary to flood the entire planet up to fifteen cubits above the tallest mountain would be vastly greater than the largest estimates of the present amount of subsurface water. One would have to employ a model out of the movie “2012” to make it work. How good was the science in that film? NASA felt compelled to put up a web page dispelling the sheer inanities in the film. Interestingly, there is a Christian review of the film that came out at the time by Sheri McMurray of Christian Spotlight which deals largely with the ideas of the end of the earth and the ultimate survival of humankind. Oddly enough, she does not touch on a particular aspect of the film that leaped out at me: that the cataclysmic events on the screen must have been very like that which are purported to have happened in Genesis 7 and 8, complete with sinking and rising continents, if the flood geology model is correct. As of now, there is no evidence that it is.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Election 2010: Did Creationism Help Sink GOP Candidate?

Bernard Schoenburg, writing for the Springfield Journal Register opines that it may have been creationism that helped to sink GOP candidate Bill Brady. He writes:
Less than a month before Election Day, Brady appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board, where some of his conservative social views were discussed. The lead sentence on that newspaper’s story about the meeting mentioned that Brady told the board “he would not stand in the way of a public school board should it want to teach creationism.”

That was reminiscent of late 2005, when Brady started an unsuccessful run for his party’s nomination for governor in 2006.

“I think we should teach the Bible in our schools,” he said then on WMAY-AM. “One of the basic, fundamental voids we have in our school system is bringing God into the system.” Brady told me later he thought local school boards shouldn’t be prohibited from having the “historical significance of the Bible or any religion” taught.

Despite the spin, Brady’s startling talk of the need for God in public schools was part of what formed the impression that Brady was more conservative than many Illinois voters are comfortable with. The horrific economy and state budget this year pushed such issues into the background, but it’s easy to believe Brady’s creationism comments in the Sun-Times story pushed some possible Brady voters into Quinn’s camp.
This is, admittedly, speculation and it is the first such story I have heard about this issue in the election. I have maintained that if the Democrats had hammered this point to the electorate, that the GOP, in general, suffers from a science gap, more races might have gone Democrat. In reflection, how true that is in the heartland is debatable. Explaining that the opponent is a young earth creationist is one thing. Explaining that being one is bad for science education is another. This is especially true when a sizable segment of the population doesn't think young earth creationism is half bad.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Dan Margoliss on Glenn Beck and Evolution

Dan Margoliss of the Morning Star UK has an issue with Glen Beck, who took a pot shot at evolution the other day:
"I think [evolution's] ridiculous," Beck said recently on his radio show. He went on to make a number of statements to bolster his claim that Darwinian natural selection is nonsense - but his claims showed only how little he knows of the subject.
Well, he wouldn't be the first conservative talk show host that completely botched evolutionary theory. Fox news regularly has on people like Kirk Cameron who doesn't know the first thing about the subject. Along the way, though, Margoliss writes something involving the human fossil record that, I will venture, is completely unknown to this group of evolution-haters:

We are Homo sapiens. The species before us was Homo erectus. If you were to revive a Homo erectus and put him next to a modern human being, it would be easy to tell the difference which was which.

However, if you were to revive all of our preceding generations and put one member of each in line, until it reached the generation of our recently revived ancestor Homo erectus, you'd have a problem of classification.

It would be virtually impossible to mark where Homo erectus ended and where Homo sapiens began. Each generation would be slightly more like the next species than the previous one.

Evolution is a process of gradual change - very gradual - over thousands of generations. It's not as if a Homo erectus gave birth to a Homo sapiens. Every single generation is, in a sense, intermediate.

It's precisely because whole generations are missing that we are able to label the different species. Otherwise we'd have no idea where to draw the line between humans and our ancestors.

Some would argue that Homo erectus did not give rise to Homo sapiens and that Homo sapiens neandertalensis is a separate species, but I will follow Wolpoff on this lead.

When Kirk Cameron stood there in front of the cameras and said he couldn't possibly believe in evolution because he had never seen "one of these, a crockaduck," I thought he was joking. Then I realized that this level of knowledge about evolutionary theory is commonplace.

The human fossil record is so good and there are so many transitions that we have trouble telling one species apart from another. Is the Bodo cranium (shown here on the left) late Homo erectus or is it archaic Homo sapiens? I have seen it classified as both. The point is that evolution happens in mosaic fashion, regardless of whether you employ a systematics model or a phenetic one. The fossil record is what it is and for humans and their precursors, it is quite good.

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I have added Sandwalk to my list of blogs on the right hand side. This is a good blog by a biochemist at the University of Toronto by the name of Laurence Moran, that addresses themes in evolution and science in daily life. He might be a bit religiously skeptical for my tastes but has concise commentary on the science.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Dembski/Hitchens Debate

Christopher Hitchens, who is battling esophageal cancer, and William Dembski will debate whether or not God is good at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX on November 18. Here is the blurb in the campus newspaper from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It reads, in part:
Dembski and Hitchens will debate the existence of a good God during a conference for the Biblical Worldview Institute at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas. The debate will be hosted in the worship center at Prestonwood Baptist Church from 8:40 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. It will also be webcast on
I hope that Dembski can go toe to toe with Hitchens but given his reluctance to defend his own research from criticisms, I fear the worst.

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Our Cheatin' Ancestors?

A new study suggests that modern humans are considerably less promiscuous than their forbears. In a story that appeared in the University of Oxford site, the culprit seems to be androgen levels:
Previous studies by the research team have shown that promiscuous species have low index to ring finger ratios while monogamous species have high finger ratios. High levels of androgens, such as testosterone, increase the length of the fourth finger in comparison to the second finger. It is thought that prenatal androgens affect finger length during development in the womb, which in turn is linked to adult behaviour. High levels of prenatal androgens are linked with competitiveness and promiscuity.
I would love to know what the r2 on that analysis is. I am always extremely suspicious of a study that links a single process to a complex social behavior, especially something like this. Later, the article has this:
Dr Susanne Shultz, from the University of Oxford, said: ‘Social behaviours are notoriously difficult to identify in the fossil record. Developing novel approaches, such as finger ratios, can help inform the current debate surrounding the social systems of the earliest human ancestors.
They are notoriously difficult because they often leave few to no clues. This analysis also sidesteps the problems involved in trying to ascertain what other selective forces might have been at work in early hominid development. For example, in Ardipithecus, given that they exhibited incipient bipedality and were, at least in part, arboreal as well, there may have been selective pressures on metacarpal and phalanx length. Also, is finger length one trait dictated by pleiotropy? Or is it polygenic? Is there linkage disequilibrium going on? These sorts of questions could be extrapolated to other hominid species as well and need to be addressed before arriving at the conclusion that is stated in this study.

Update on "Nifty Videos" Post

I have been informed that AronRa is the author of the 12 Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism series.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Nifty Video on Transitional Fossils

Karl, writing from the blog Athens and Jerusalem, has posted a long series on the "foundational falsehoods of creationism." Here is his video on transitional fossils.

He has a very good explanation of what a transitional fossil is as well as how many we actually have. The slides go past pretty quickly so you will probably need to pause the video to read them. The best line, regarding extinction: "practically everything that ever was, ain't no more."

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Post-Election Wednesday

Well, the Republicans won 58 seats in the house that they didn't have and now have a 239-185 majority and they gained five seats in the senate resulting in a 49-46 minority. The media is painting the tea party as extremist and, to be sure, there are some extreme elements in it, but the same can be said for the "Rally for Sanity," (about which Mary Katherine Ham demonstrates that there is idiocy on both sides of the electorate). In any event, the next two years ought to be interesting. Here are some predictions:

Good things:
  • more fiscal responsibility
  • a thorough reading of Obamacare (which even many Democrats admit they hadn't read) to see just what exactly is in it.
  • a relaxation of the stranglehold that the unions have over jobs and businesses
  • less willingness to bail out entities that do not deserve it (e.g. California)
  • more accountability in spending (The WaPo discovered that the TARP money went from the taxpayers to the companies to the politicians who voted for TARP. Neat circle there.)
Bad things:
  • the introduction of more "academic freedom" bills in statehouses across the land
  • more attempts by emboldened young earth creationists, under the cover of "a mandate from the people," to introduce creationism in public schools all across the country
  • less science funding in areas of biology and genetics—anything that can be connected to evolution.
I hope I am wrong about the bad things but I am betting not.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Its Tuesday

Go out there and vote. If you are like me and follow the science education question "religiously," I cannot advise you on how to vote. It seems as though the candidates that agree with fiscal conservatism also tend to be creationists, or lean that way. So do we live in a country that has great science education but is due for imminent financial collapse? I don't know. For those of you who read this are Christians or believers in a higher power, I would suggest that you pray before you pull the lever. I did.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Discovery Institute Wastes a Golden Opportunity and Shows Its True Colors

Steve Matheson, in response to the news that BioLogos and the Discovery Institute would be part of a larger symposium on the nature of science and religion called "The Vibrant Dance," wrote a blistering column on his blog on the cost of Christian unity. In it, he wrote:
In short, I take the following to be evident: unity is not an end in itself, and is not achieved by wishful thinking or gushy happy talk. I'll look at those two points in two posts on BioLogos and Christian unity.

So, I'm occasionally frustrated by the stance of my friends at BioLogos when it comes to Christian unity. Consider a recent and widely-discussed piece by Darrel Falk, on the question of why BioLogos is co-sponsoring a conference (called The Vibrant Dance) with two organizations known to regularly misrepresent science: Reasons To Believe (RTB) and the Discovery Institute (DI). Falk notes that this choice has been criticized by believers and skeptics alike. In my opinion, his defense of that choice misses the most important criticisms. His defense amounts to a claim that Christian unity matters more than just about anything else.
The focus behind Matheson's apprehension is his complete distrust of all things Discovery Institute and he has written extensively on this topic. I have also addressed their propensity for twisting language out of its original meaning.

Well, as Steve might say "I told you so." The majority of the conference apparently went according to plan and Darrel Falk writes that, as a whole, it was very well organized. Then the Discovery Institute pulled off its mask. Panda's Thumb refers to this as a classic case of bait and switch. As Darrel Falk writes:
Five days before the meeting, the Discovery Institute posted a statement about the upcoming event:

“Next week the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science becomes the God and evolution showdown in Austin…”

The posting then went on to state:

Attendees have three days of speakers and sessions but should prepare for a rumble on Thursday, October 28, when Stephen Meyer and Doug Axe will go up against Darrel Falk and Randy Isaac in a debate on the origin of life…

The way this was described by the Discovery Institute was exactly what had concerned me most about this meeting. Knowing that this may have been inadvertently put up by someone who was not aware of the intention of the meeting, I immediately contacted the organizers and asked that the statement be taken down and that it be replaced with a statement which indicated an assurance that the Discovery Institute was committed to enter into our breakout session, not in the spirit of a “God and evolution showdown” or a “rumble” but within the Spirit of Christian unity. I felt the task was difficult enough as it was that unless we both clarified our mutual commitment from the start it had the potential to harm the Church.

The organizers asked the Discovery Institute to take the statement down; it was not granted. I was told that it was an Associate Director of the Discovery Institute who had denied the request. I felt strongly that there was a need to publically acknowledge that the tone of the post was not consistent with the nature of the meeting. I also felt that it was important to make a public statement about our commitment to work together in the Spirit of Christ. Because an Associate Director of the Institute acknowledged that he knew about it and wouldn’t grant the request, I pulled out.
I have often wondered if the Discovery Institute has a split personality with the researchers working on problems involving the nature of biocomplexity and the PR wing of the institute engaged in hucksterism and propaganda. Now we find that I am wrong. The rot goes all the way to the top, with the higher eschelons engaged in this intentional antagonism.

Bravo to Darrel for pulling out of the session involving the DI. This is yet another reason why other organizations refuse to take them seriously or to entreat with them. They had a golden opportunity to engage BioLogos on the legitimacy of evolutionary creationism and intelligent design and, because of their juvenile, immature approach to this complex question, they wasted it. Darrel ends his post with this:
BioLogos remains more concerned than ever about ensuring that we all—together as Christians—can come to peace with mainstream science, including biology. We do not think it is fundamentally flawed even though we know there are those who have misused it for their own philosophical agendas. We look forward to ongoing discussions with those who see things differently---but not where it has been announced to be a showdown and not where it has been presented as a rumble.
It is clear that the Discovery Institute, like the ICR and AiG, is not interested in honest debate on the topic of origins and evolution and, like those organizations, should be avoided in future endeavors like the Vibrant Dance. Steve, you were right. Good riddance and bad rubbish!
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Ramping Up to Tuesday

There are races all over the country and one of the topics on everyone's minds seems to be evolution. From the Kansas City Star we have this:
The Kansas Board of Education 1st District race features newcomer Willie Dove against incumbent Janet Waugh...Waugh believes science “should be taught as recommended by the mainstream science community, which includes evolution.” But she supports creationism being taught in other classes, including comparative religion, history or government.

Dove supports teaching alternatives to evolution but didn’t clarify if he supports teaching alternatives like creationism as part of the science curriculum.
From the Fort Collins Coloradoan, we have this:
Anyone who reads the Coloradoan's endorsement of [Ken] Buck on Oct. 22 should read all the newspaper. The front-page story is about Buck's claim that climate change is a "hoax." Buck is now retreating from that statement, but he asserted that James Inhofe of Oklahoma was the "first person to stand up and say this global warming is the greatest hoax that has been perpetrated." He added, "The evidence just keeps supporting his view and more and more people's views of what's going on."

Inhofe is the point man for the right-wing fringe. He wants a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and another to make English the official language of the United States. Inhofe also thinks evolution is a hoax and that creationism should be taught in public schools. If Buck views Inhofe as a leader whose ideas are worth repeating, it says a lot about Buck.
On the Alaska race, from the Daily Caller:
Alaska Senate hopeful Joe Miller focused on GOP rival Sen. Lisa Murkowski during the last debate before next week’s election, seeking to shore up his conservative base and win over voters following a series of high-profile campaign stumbles...
The debate touched on topics such as whether creationism should be taught in schools: Miller said yes, along with science; Democrat Scott McAdams and GOP write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski both said it shouldn’t be.
I suspect that this is playing out all over the country, with the Democrat candidates forcing the issue. I would if I were them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christine O'Donnell and Teaching Creationism

Delaware Online has a story about the Christine O’Donnell/Chris Coons debate that has gotten the blogosphere so riled up on both sides of the aisle. Common consensus is that the law students treated her abysmally and that she was correct in some assertions. I will deal with one of them in which she was not.
The discussion about the separation of church and state started when Coons asked O'Donnell whether she believes in evolution, a question she repeatedly skirted during two debates last week.

"What I think about the theory is irrelevant," O'Donnell said.
Coons went on to say that schools should not be permitted to teach creationism. O'Donnell replied that his view violated the Constitution and imposed his beliefs on local school districts.

"You have just stated that you will impose your will over the local school district and that is a blatant violation of our Constitution," O'Donnell said.

Not in this case. The freedom to teach creationism would only stand if creationism was accepted science. It is not. O'Donnell is correct in that the "separation of church and state" is not in constitution. The problem is that what the constitution does say is that congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. That means not promoting state-sanctioned religion. Creationism is patently religiously based and, as such, is a clear violation of the First Amendment. This has been shown in numerous court cases dating back thirty years.

A further problem is this notion that one’s beliefs are being imposed upon by the teaching of accepted science. One only takes this perspective if they are completely ignorant of mainstream science and view it adversarially. This is not confidence-inspiring. We will see on Tuesday.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stand Up for Science Asks: Are God and Keplerism Compatible?

The Panda’s Thumb points us to a hilarious story from the blog “Stand Up for Real Science.” It is a parody of the recent Discovery Institute article on “Can you be a Darwinist and a theist?” by Jay Richards, on which I posted here. Titled: “Are God and Keplerism Compatible? Some Catholic, Jewish and Protestant Authors Say No”, it reads in part:
“Too few people have carefully teased out the various scientific, philosophical, and theological claims at stake in believing that the earth revolves around the sun,” says Ray Hitchens, director of research for Stationary Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Culture & Science, and editor of God and Revolution. “As a result, the whole subject of God and revolution has been an enigma wrapped in a shroud of fuzz and surrounded by a blanket of fog. To help clear the air, we are no longer denying that our motivations for rejecting it are completely religious.”
God and Revolution includes chapters by Willard Rembski, author of The Decline of Revolution; Steve Meyerson, author of Signature in the Solar System: Epicycles and the Evidence for Intelligent Design; Denise O’Lambert, co-author of The Spiraling Drain; Davis Hoffenkling, editor of Signature of Controversy: Responses to Critics of Signature in the Solar System; John Wellington, author of Icons of Revolution; and Jonathan East, author of Kepler Day in America;
The book is a response to growing efforts by some Keplerists to enlist the support of the faith community by downplaying Keplerism’s core principles. Chapters of the book detail the failures of theistic revolution, address the problem of retrograde motion, and explain how intelligent design is consonant with orthodox belief in the fixity of the earth.
This is sort of along the lines of NCSE’s “Project Steve,” that wonderful spoof of the DI’s Dissent from Darwin. Parody of the highest order.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NPR: Feckless, Gutless and Intolerant

The story posted below was the last NPR story that I will post. The firing of Juan Williams, one of the most fair and even correspondents I have heard in recent years made me sick to my stomach. I will never post a story from NPR again, nor will I ever consider donating money to them. If a letter is circulated asking congress to defund them, I will sign it. They are not even liberal in outlook. They are politically correct and intolerant of free speech.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NPR Tackles Linneaus

Linnaeus, if you remember your biological history, is the man responsible for the binomial classification scheme that we now use to taxonomically place animals and plants. As Robert Krulwich writes, on NPR:
"It is difficult to overstate the importance of this," write biologists Sandra Knapp and Quentin Wheeler in their 2008 book Letters to Linnaeus. The great Swede's classifications, they say, rank with the invention of the internet.

And yet the very people who should take Linnaeus most seriously — the research scientists who discover and name new species of life — have all kinds of fun playing with Linneaus' system.
As Krulwich notes, however, there has been some fun at Linnaeus' expense:
But recently my collection of names has been updated by Professor Chris Impey in his new book How It Ends. Here’s Chris’ list of favorites:

He found a beetle named Agra vation and another one called Agra phobia. (These are their real scientific names.)

There is a pine tree called Pinus rigidus.

There is a mollusk named Abra cadabra.

He found an extinct rat-kangaroo called Wakie wakie.
I once heard a story about a man who discovered a new species of snail and, to spite his major professor, who's name was Hodgekiss, called it Hodgekisseanus.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

John Freshwater Update

Panda's Thumb has an update on the John Freshwater case titled The Defense Goes Fishing. Richard Hoppe writes:
The defense in Freshwater v. Mount Vernon Board of Education, the federal suit John Freshwater brought against the Board of Education, several administrators, and several Board members, recently issued a series of subpoenas to people ranging from Nancy Freshwater’s physicians to a couple of private citizens. While the former is arguably relevant to the case, the latter are not. Part of Freshwater’s claim in his suit is the adverse effect on his wife and loss of consortium, so her medical records are potentially pertinent. However, in at least two cases, the defense is clearly on a fishing expedition that among other things has chilling implications for the First Amendment rights of the recipients.
The whole post is interesting. There are apparently two local residents who have a web site devoted to the trial. The defense subpoenaed everything that the two had ever written about the case, whether it made the web or not. Given the history of the defense in this case, this is not promising. Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee plunk! Wonder what will end up on the hook.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - It's All Greek to Me
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The Friendly Atheist on “The Whole Truth”

Since this seems to be the theme of the week, I noticed that the Friendly Atheist has a piece on how pushy atheists should be when confronting Christians or others who believe in a higher power. Referring to the atheism of PZ Myers and Chris Mooney, he writes:
Here’s the difference between the two sides: You know that courtroom phrase, “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”?

Both Mooney and PZ want to tell the truth about science and evolution.

Only PZ is willing to tell the whole truth — that the logical conclusion of accepting science fully is that you must dismiss any notion of gods, miracles, and the supernatural.

Mooney thinks it’s bad PR for us to admit that — and he may be right — but it’s wrong to let Christians keep thinking science and religion are perfectly compatible when they really aren’t.

There are two striking assumptions here that Mehta expects us to take at face value: that PZ Myers’ perspective is “the whole truth” and that the logical conclusion of accepting science is that you must reject any notion of the existence of the supernatural.

This odd conflation of methodology with worldview, is known as philosophical naturalism. It means that in my scientific endeavors, I must believe that a supernatural entity does not and cannot exist. In this case, my worldview may or may not be divorced from reality. Performing science with the assumption that there is no interference from a higher power does not mean that there is not one. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I would also make the case that it is intellectually dishonest. I contend that science cannot address the existence of God one way or the other. It simply is not equipped to do so. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross, who wrote The Fingerprint of God, which deals with the level of “tweaking” that the universe exhibits in order to sustain life on this third rock from the sun, believes that this points to the existence of God. As far as he and other progressive creationists and intelligent design supporters are concerned, while not a smoking gun, this level of inferential evidence is enough. Maybe, but it is a post hoc argument. It only looks tweaked because we are here to observe it. One of the main complaints about ID is that it has no theoretical construct to test for the existence of God. Michael Behe suggests that evolution cannot explain the flagellar motor or the blood-clotting cascade in humans. Even if, by some chance that is true, it still presents no support that God produced either in ex nihilo fashion.

By the same token, the statement that there is no god is a statement of faith. It is only the whole truth if you subscribe to the reductionistic view that all we can see is all that exists. Once again, science cannot address that question. To be completely honest, we must be scientifically agnostic. What we believe to be true is a matter of faith. PZ Myers and Herment Mehta believe in their hearts that there is no god. I believe that there is.

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