Friday, January 28, 2011

Richard Hoppe Takes Casey Luskin to the Woodshed

Richard Hoppe, over at Panda's Thumb, fisks Casey Luskin for his comments on the new article on the evolutionary pathway on the antifreeze gene in fish. Luskin's original post is here and Hoppe's is here. Luskin needs to get away from ham-fisted terms like “Darwinian activists” to be taken seriously.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Anderson Cooper 360 Tackles Noah's Ark

Anderson Cooper conducted an interview with Ken Ham and Barry Lynn about the new amusement park that is being built in Kentucky centred around Noah's Ark. The transcript is here and the story begins about a third of the way in. Here is an excerpt:

Its purpose primarily is to try -- on the Web site of Answers in Genesis, it says this -- to convince the world, including those of us in America, that there is a literal truth to the Bible. And that includes the literal truth of the story of a worldwide flood and Noah's Ark.

So, it would be very -- I would be hard-pressed to find anyone who looks at this project and doesn't see this as a ministry. And that's precisely what's wrong with the government of Kentucky, the state, helping to subsidize it.

COOPER: Mr. Ham, are you trying to convert people here?

HAM: You know, first of all, it's not Answers in Genesis that owns the Ark Encounter. The Ark Encounter is a profit organization. Answers in Genesis is just a member. You need to understand that.

And, secondly, the -- the government of Kentucky is not subsidizing the Ark Encounter. They have an economic incentive program available for anyone. In fact, they can't have viewpoint discrimination, as Barry Lynn would like to have.

And because of the economic incentive program, we, like anyone else, if we fulfill the criteria of that -- and there are five criteria -- it doesn't involve the state endorsing any particular religion or anything like that.

In fact, the Ark Encounter is not a religion. It is a theme park. It is centered around biblical history. And -- and the state is not going to have viewpoint discrimination just because it's a theme park centered around biblical history.

LYNN: No, no, but, see, that is fundamentally wrong.

The truth of the matter is that this park, whether it's partially private or partially for-profit, it is promoting the one thing that the other groups getting subsidies don't promote, and that is a specific religious viewpoint.

Aside from the legal issues, I was horrified just a few weeks ago when the governor, Steve Beshear, of Kentucky stands up there with folks from this Ark park and basically gives his blessing to what -- let's just call them unorthodox ideas from Answers in Genesis.
As much as I disagree with Barry Lynn most of the time, he has a point here. This is a particular point of view that is being expressed and Lynn is correct that it entails at least tacit support for an initiative that is purely religiously based, whether or not Ken Ham wishes to acknowledge this. This makes Ham's response somewhat naïve. The Koran carries within it history as well, but no one would construe an amusement park based on the Koran as being anything other than Muslim-based.

As far as the legal end of things is concerned, if Ham is correct that they really have met all five of the criteria, then there is little that can stand in the way of the incentive program.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

New CFSI Post Is Up

My newest CFSI post is up and can be read here. One more post on the background before I tackle the theological issues involved. Still thinking about those.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Comment is Back!

The comment that I posted to O'Leary's site is back. Wonder what happened? I checked several times this morning and could not find it. I take back all of the things I said. Maybe there is hope after all.

Its Gone!!

Denyse O'Leary has come through with Flying Colors!!! The comment that I left last night on O'Leary's atheism post is GONE! In its place are eight comments that, to one degree or another, agree with what she wrote. Absolutely amazing. How can anyone call themselves a journalist with integrity when they remove comments that don't agree with what they write? My comment contained no name-calling, no hateful references, and no ad hominem attacks and yet, as far as the readers of UD know, it was never there. Disgraceful.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Comment on Uncommon Descent

O'Leary has a post with the particularly snotty title “Darwinism best career choice for aspiring influential atheists?” , which is a comment on another post that was put out called The 25 Most Influential Living Atheists. Seven of them are evolution supporters or evolutionary biologists, something she finds significant. She writes:

“And, by the way, when Evolution Sunday rolls around in 2011, all Christian Darwinists should pause to reflect on how much their faith owes to these people. (I mention this because I am knee-deep in these blessed dimes of Darwin, for some project I am stuck with.)”

I responded:

Why on earth would my faith owe these people anything? My faith in Jesus and my acceptance of evolutionary biology doesn’t hinge on whether or not these people are atheists. These people were atheists long before they supported evolution. And evolution has been around a lot longer than they have.

We will see how long the comment stays up or if she responds to it. I know it is not strictly a DI page, but, then again, there have never been open comments here before.

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I am reminded of that fantastic section of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's live version of Aquatarkus where Greg Lake channels feedback through his bass into the speakers (at the 19:02 mark). As Panda's Thumb notes, it seems that the Discovery Institute, after years of negative press about the fact that they don't allow feedback on their hit pieces, are testing the waters. I am not optimistic. A year back, I found a piece by Cornelius Hunter to be incorrect in places. How was I able to voice this? I had to write the PR guy and lawyer Casey Luskin, who then relayed the message to Dr. Hunter, who then wrote me a very arrogant and condescending message. After debating whether or not to answer it and fearing I would write something that I would later regret, I just walked away. Let's see what Wesley Elsbury writes:
Discovery Institute Senior Fellow William Dembski’s weblog, “Uncommon Descent”, has comments enabled, but the moderation there is generally so ham-fisted that only a few voices of dissent have lasted more than a week or two. The various inconsistencies of moderation and proclivity to stifle dissent have their own thread at “After the Bar Closes”., and discussion of content at UD has occupied three long-running threads ([1], [2], and [3]).
For a reminder of one particularly bad exchange, a read of Pharyngula's account is instructive. We shall see what we shall see.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Martin Gaskell and the University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky just settled out of court a discrimination suit brought by Martin Gaskell who felt that he was denied a position because he was a Christian. Here is the story from Inside Higher Ed and here is the essay that got Dr. Gaskell into trouble. Two things come to mind when I read the story and the essay: first, the University of Kentucky acted shamefully in many ways during the whole episode and, second, if I had been relevant professors at the University, I would have been a bit nervous too.

First, the University:
But Gaskell says it was Kentucky’s biology department that sank his candidacy for the observatory directorship. Upon discovering his lecture notes online, several members of the search committee expressed curiosity, though not necessarily alarm. “Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk to -- but possibly evangelical,” wrote one committee member in an e-mail. “If we hire him, we should expect similar content to be posted on or directly linked from the department website.” Another, noting that he was aware of Gaskell’s religious disposition, responded, “Personally, I believe in freedom of religion, and have no problem with Martin as long as he does not use the classroom or official university sites as a pulpit.”
Gaskell says that the biology department, whose members had no astrophysical experience or training were allowed to influence the decision to hire him. Understandably, this was upsetting. There was, additionally, clearly some future projecting going on:
“[A non-committee member] suggested, in particular, that we might one day wake up to a [Lexington] Herald-Leader headline citing ‘UK hires creationist as Observatory Director,’” wrote one member of the search committee in an e-mail. “Such a headline would probably not be a fair representation of Martin’s personal views, which are not simple, but the headline could appear nonetheless.”
You cannot hire or not hire somebody based on something that may or may not happen that has little bearing on their position. One might just as easily say that they have a problem with hiring someone for a biology position because they go to church. God only knows what that church might teach some Sunday.

Second, Martin Gaskell. After setting up the various divisions within the church with regard to the teaching of evolution and the age of the earth, he uncorks this:
It is true that there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory (a good thing or else many biologists and geologists would be out of a job) and that these problems are bigger than is usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses, but the real problem with humanistic evolution is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations. It is the latter that “creationists” should really be attacking (many books do, in fact, attack these unwarranted assumptions and extrapolations).
What exactly are these “significant problems?” He does not say (nor, I will warrant, would he be able to). The first thing that comes to my mind when I read something like this is “Discovery Institute party line” and red flags go up. Here is a man who complains that biologists who have no expertise in astrophysics are having an influence on his hiring and yet appears to feel perfectly free to denigrate a science of which he knows nothing. Further, the statement isn't just wrong, it is pejorative, implying that biologists are pulling the wool over people's eyes when they teach it or practice it. That is uncalled for and unprofessional. He continues:
A discussion of the current controversies over evolutionary theory and how Christians view these controversies, is beyond the scope of this handout, but the now extensive literature discussing and reviewing books such as those of Phillip E. Johnson (“Darwin on Trial”) and of biochemist Michael J. Behe (“Darwin's Black Box”) will give you some of the flavor of the diversity of opinion of Christian biologists (and geologists).
Why has he mentioned no books by mainstream biologists, such as Kenneth Miller or Francis Collins? They are both Christians and well-respected in the field of biology. The only flavor you will get with the list Gaskell provides is “Intelligent Design”.

So, was the University of Kentucky right in denying him the appointment? likely not. It is not clear that his views on biology would have made the slightest difference in the performance of his duties as an astronomer. It is also true that he should have known that if he hung a big sign around his neck reading “Discovery Institute” that problems would arise.

While most scientists have taken to ignoring the young earth creation groups such as the ICR and AiG, the Discovery Institute is viewed as a real threat because of the thin veneer of “science” that it promotes as well as the their suspect practices (See Steve Matheson's open letter to Stephen Meyer of the DI) involving their portrayal of scientists and their promotion of debatable legislation damaging to the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools. It is not surprising that the biologists reacted the way they did.

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Roger Morris at Faith Interface

Roger Morris has a good summation of why the Young Earth Creation position is logically, theologically and philosophically unsound. It is a very good read and you should stop by. It is here.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Quote of the Day

An individual who Twittered that she wished that Sarah Palin would get shot now seems to want privacy from the post. As a commenter to the story by William Jacobson of Legal Insurrections wrote:

“Twitter seems to be very effective, in a raw Darwinian sort of way, at identifying the true morons, doesn’t it?”

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reasons to Believe and the Credibility Gap

Todd Wood has wrapped up his long series on the problems with Fuz Rana's interpretation of the human/chimp DNA differences and his responses to Dennis Venema's writings. He closes with some sobering thought:
To be honest, I do not believe that RTB will pay any attention whatsoever to this series of posts. Given Rana's insulting response to Venema's critique, I expect that they'll treat this as yet another "ad hominem attack." I've mostly written this series for third parties that might be confused about the Venema/Rana exchange. As far as I'm concerned, RTB's credibility is completely shot (read my analysis of their handling of the Neandertal genome for more evidence of errors and exaggerations on the part of Ross, Rana, and Samples: parts one, two, three). I would recommend that no one accept any of RTB's arguments without fact-checking their claims first. I do not know whether these problems are due to lazy scholarship, ignorance, intentional deception, or ideological blinders. What I do know is that you cannot trust Reasons to Believe.
This is very disappointing but, having read enough of Steve Matheson's writings, not entirely surprising. Once upon a time I had much respect for Hugh Ross and the work he did to try to convince the evangelical community that there could be a fulfilling theological construct that incorporated an old creation. He came to the University of Tennessee in the early 1990s and gave a series of compelling, cogent lectures on the astrophysical evidence. Even then, though, I had misgivings about what his (and his organization's) treatment of the biological data would be like. Now, it seems that my misgivings were well-founded and we have our answer.

Albert Mohler Takes on BioLogos

Over At Albert Mohler's blog, he has a post titled: “No Buzzing Little Fly — Why the Creation-Evolution Debate is So Important”. His is a response to Darrel Falk's end of the year BioLogos message, which can be found here. He quotes Falk as writing:

Dr. Mohler, giant as he is in fundamentalist/evangelical circles, represents a view that takes on the entire scientific enterprise. To this day, I have not been able to identify a single person who holds a science faculty position in any Biology, Geology or Physics Department at any secular research university in the world who would agree with Dr. Mohler’s view of creation. Not one, out of what I imagine are tens of thousands, including many who are strongly committed to living the Christian life in the context of fully orthodox Christian theology... Scientific knowledge is not deeply flawed and we cannot allow ourselves to be led down this pathway any longer.

To this, Mohler responds:

That is nothing less than a manifesto for scientism. Science, as a form of knowledge, is here granted a status that can only be described as infallible. The dangers of this proposal are only intensified when we recognize that “scientific knowledge” is not even a stable intellectual construct. Nevertheless, these words do reveal why BioLogos pushes its agenda with such intensity.
This is a very simplistic view of science and its goals and if Dr. Mohler thought long and hard about it, I believe he would agree. Airplanes work because of scientific knowledge. Cars work because of scientific knowledge. We know that there are eight planets in the solar system (and one plutoid) because of scientific knowledge. Science has been responsible for almost everything that we know of the natural universe. As They Might Be Giants would say: “Science is Real!”

To say that the scientific enterprise is infallible just because someone else says that it isn't a fundamentally flawed endeavor is nonsense. (Aside: when you quote someone, it is customary to include the link to the piece from which you are quoting. Dr. Mohler did not afford Dr. Falk this courtesy.)

Science is not truth. But it does give us a window into the mind of God through the study of his creation. The scientific enterprise is the best way that we have of understanding the universe around us in a physical sense. Such an endeavor does not amount to “scientism” and when Reverend Mohler suggests otherwise, it makes one wonder if he does not truly understand what science is about.

Mohler continues:
The entire intellectual enterprise of evolution is based on naturalistic assumptions, and I do not share those presuppositions. Indeed, the entire enterprise of Christianity is based on supernaturalistic, rather than merely naturalistic, assumptions. There is absolutely no reason that a Christian theologian should accept the uniformitarian assumptions of evolution. In fact, given a plain reading of Scripture, there is every reason that Christians should reject a uniformitarian presupposition. The Bible itself offers a very different understanding of natural phenomena, with explanations that should be compelling to believers.
The enterprise of evolution is based on scientific observation of God's creation. There are no naturalistic assumptions made about evolution that are not made about all of the rest of God's creation. Are naturalistic assumptions present in a weather forecast? Those are derived from scientific models. Part of the reason that they work is because of these self, same uniformitarian assumptions to which Reverend Mohler is so adamantly opposed.

The “different” understanding of natural phenomena that Reverend Mohler offers reflects a flat reading of scripture, without symbolic imagery, or grandeur. It offers, consequently, a non-existent, fantasy creation, a world that never was and exists only in the minds of young-earth creation supporters and theologians like Reverend Mohler. When this theological construct encounters the real world, it either crumbles or retreats into its shell by arguing that only spiritual truth is real truth. This simply isn't so. Spiritual truth is God's truth but so is physical truth. The evidence that our universe is very old will not go away and, unless the vast majority of science is completely and utterly mistaken, it will never reveal a world such as that envisioned by the young earth model.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Todd Wood Continues Taking Apart Fuz Rana

In the most gentle and Christlike fashion, Todd Wood is trashing Fuz Rana's interpretation of the ape and human genome similarities. Todd is up to part seven now, which can be found here. He writes:
In his latest post, Rana asserts the following about the argument for common ancestry from pseudogenes:
When evolutionary biologists present this argument, they make a number of assumptions, all of which appear to have questionable validity based on recent research results. For the pseudogene evidence to have potency: (1) pseudogenes must lack function; (2) their origin must be due to rare, random events; and (3) their juxtaposition to other genes must be arbitrary.
Everything he wrote there is utterly false. None of those conditions are required to argue for common ancestry from pseudogene similarity. Not one.
As Glenn Reynolds would say: OUCH! I would encourage you to read the whole debate. I am not qualified to comment at more than a superficially cogent level but I might try to say a few things. I haven't seen Steve Matheson wade in yet, but he may yet. If he does, expect fireworks. He has no love for RTB.

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Praise for Todd Wood

Larry Moran over at Sandwalk has been following the debate between Fuz Rana over at RTB and Dennis Venema, at BioLogos, about the human/chimpanzee genomic similarities. I have been meaning to comment on the debate but have gotten involved in my own posts and haven't had the time. Anyway, this came to the attention of Todd Wood, down at Bryan College, who has been running his own set of posts on the debate. Moran has this to say:
Fortunately for us, Todd Wood of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, USA is on the case. Todd belongs to a young-Earth creation study group [BSG] but don't let that fool you. He's doing a pretty good job of sorting out the facts in the case.
This might seem somewhat backhanded but if you read what Wood has to say, he is obviously struggling with the lack of integrity on the part of RTB. It is nice to see a young earth creationist try to deal with the data honestly. Most of the time the lack of integrity exhibited by young earth creationists is maddening, distasteful and disheartening. Hats off to Todd Wood.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Evolution of Modern Clothing

A University of Florida study has determined that modern humans first developed clothing around 170,000 years ago and that this enabled them to migrate out of Africa. Danielle Torrent writes:
Principal investigator David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, studies lice in modern humans to better understand human evolution and migration patterns. His latest five-year study used DNA sequencing to calculate when clothing lice first began to diverge genetically from human head lice.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study is available online and appears in this month’s print edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

“We wanted to find another method for pinpointing when humans might have first started wearing clothing,” Reed said. “Because they are so well adapted to clothing, we know that body lice or clothing lice almost certainly didn’t exist until clothing came about in humans.”

The data shows modern humans started wearing clothes about 70,000 years before migrating into colder climates and higher latitudes, which began about 100,000 years ago. This date would be virtually impossible to determine using archaeological data because early clothing would not survive in archaeological sites.
Oh? Okay, lets parse this. Modern humans invented clothing so they could move into colder climates. News flash: hominids were knocking on the gates of Europe 1.8 million years ago. This we know from the Caucasus site of Dmanisi. Furthermore, there are Chinese Homo erectus sites that date to between 250 and 550 thousand years ago. These locales were not temperate. The site of Zhoukoudian is near Beijing, which can experience temperatures as low a -4 degrees Fahrenheit. It is with this hominid that we see the first control of fire. The story continues:
“The new result from this lice study is an unexpectedly early date for clothing, much older than the earliest solid archaeological evidence, but it makes sense,” said Ian Gilligan, lecturer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at The Australian National University. “It means modern humans probably started wearing clothes on a regular basis to keep warm when they were first exposed to Ice Age conditions.”
Again, the hominids in China lived during the East Asian equivalent of the Mindel glaciation, during which it would have been colder than it is now.The story continues:
The study also shows humans started wearing clothes well after they lost body hair, which genetic skin-coloration research pinpoints at about 1 million years ago, meaning humans spent a considerable amount of time without body hair and without clothing, Reed said.
Not sure I buy this either. You can't survive in those locales during glacial periods without one or the other. You can't pick fire up and move it around with you. During the mid- to late Pleistocene, you had hominids in southern Europe, northern China, the Caucasus and other places. During the Würm glaciation, the tundra line was at Vienna.

I would like to see a follow-up story.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Oh, Those Godless Evolutionists!

Denyse O'Leary wrote an extremely vapid piece on Darrel Falk which I thought about commenting on before I thought better of it. Instead, since we evolutionists are obviously all Godless atheists, I leave you with Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers singing "Atheists Don't Have No Songs."

I will be serious again tomorrow, I promise.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

BioLogos Post

The third BioLogos post, on the origins of bipedality and Ardipithecus, is up. Darrel actually changed the title a bit from “Bipedality—the Hallmark of Humanity” to just “Bipedality” to prevent a potential critical backlash. That is understandable.

As Darrel correctly pointed out, the hallmark of humanity is entrance into the Kingdom of God. It is important when reading the post that you keep this in your mind. That it looks like God took His time with us does not change that in any way. We are creations of God and His chosen creation. Let me know what you think.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Handaxes Ahoy!

It seems that at least some of our Homo erectus/Archaic Homo sapiens ancestors took to the high seas. A story circulating around the news (I found a copy on HufPo) indicates that, on the island of Crete, stone tools dating to between 130 and 700 ky have been found. According to the story:

Crete has been separated from the mainland for about five million years, so whoever made the tools must have traveled there by sea (a distance of at least 40 miles). That would upset the current view that human ancestors migrated to Europe from Africa by land alone.

"The results of the survey not only provide evidence of sea voyages in the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years earlier than we were aware of so far, but also change our understanding of early hominids' cognitive abilities," the ministry statement said.

If Homo erectus could harness fire, it is quite likely that they could figure out what makes things float and how to stabilize such a craft. Having said that, forty miles is a fair distance, especially since you can't see from here to there, even on a clear day. This is also the first evidence of any pre-modern technology of any kind on Crete.
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Sorry for the light posting

I just finished my third BioLogos article and it should be up soon. I will try to catch up to current events today or tomorrow.

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Steve Martin Sails into the Sunset

Steve Martin, the writer of Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution is turning out the lights on his blog. He writes:
This isn’t my first blogging hiatus. Almost exactly 2 years ago, I posted that I was taking a break. And one of the points I made then, is even truer today:
Although the science-faith discussion will always be of great interest and of some importance to me, I can’t say that it is a huge priority in my life right now; it is probably not even the most important aspect for my current faith journey.

While this statement was true 2 years ago, and is true again, for a very short, tense time this fall it became a huge personal priority as I thought my views on evolution would get me into the same hot water as Doug and Terry. Fortunately, the incident was resolved quickly and satisfactorily as the problem was primarily one of perception and misunderstanding. Today, I am excited, humbled, and feeling so fortunate to help lead a local community that is passionate about furthering God’s kingdom in a multicultural, multifaith, thoroughly secular city filled with people who desperately need to hear the gospel.

So, this hiatus is likely to be permanent. The existing content will still be available, but is unlikely to be updated. For those that want to continue to interact with me on issues of science and faith, feel free to contact me by email at steven.dale.martin at gmail dot com. (And if you haven’t done so already, please peruse / read the Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution Ebook as that may contain some initial food-for-thought). However, my suggestion for those who want to continue the dialogue (if you don’t know about these resources already), is to follow either the Biologos blog Science and the Sacred or RJS’s Musings on Science and Theology. Both of these communities have great ongoing conversations. (Note: To actually view and/or participate in comments on Musings on Science and Theology, you will need to do so on Jesus Creed where each post is cross-posted).
We will miss you Steve.

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