Thursday, February 24, 2011

Strange Quarks: Eugenie Scott

The podcast Strange Quarks has an interview with Eugenie Scott conducted by Michael Marshall, in which she addresses questions on:
...creationism, intelligent design and the skeptic scene in America in a special live edition recorded at the QED Conference.
You can subscribe to it either on RSS feed or through iTunes.

Now playing: Stan Getz - Stans Blues
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“Oh, My Aching Back!”

Researchers working with human fossil material between 400 and 500 thousand years ago, from the Sima de Los Huesos, have discovered a Homo heidelbergensis individual that had some serious back issues. Susan Uzel of Cambridge News reports:

Found among the bones of around 28 people at a site called Sima de los Huesos – “pit of bones” – in northern Spain, the lumbar spine was reconstructed from fragments discovered by scientists from the Centro Mixto de EvoluciĆ³n Humana in Burgos.

The lumbar spine comes from the same man as a pelvis found in 1994. It is thought he was aged 45, and lived more than half a million years ago.

The way in which the bones developed and the way they changed due to wear and tear show he was likely to have suffered severe back pain.

Dr Gomez-Olivencia said: “It appears that we are looking at the spine of a man who had several different problems, including inversion of the curvature of the back, spondylolisthesis, and Baastrup disease – which are associated with pain today.”

Homo heidelbergensis were nomadic hunter gatherers, relying on animals such as red deer for food, and a damaged spine would have made hunting impossible.

This is not so unusual. With bipedalism comes all sorts of issues with the back. We put an incredible amount of strain on the lower vertebrae, which often causes herniation of the discs. As we get larger and heavier (read: fatter), these get exacerbated.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The trailer for the new film on the Scopes trial called “Alleged” is out. This is not a backwoods production—it has Brian Dennehy, Fred Thompson and Colm Meaney. It bills itself as

a romantic drama based on events occurring behind the scenes and outside the courtroom of the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” of 1925

and the trailer is pretty ambiguous in terms of a position statement but it does deal with lawyerly prevarication and media bias at some level. Fred Thompson is a staunch conservative so it is not likely that he would lend himself to a project that makes William Jennings Bryan look like a fool, which is what Inherit the Wind kind of did with Fredric March. The tag line is “Some Lies Just Have to be Told.” Here is the trailer:

I missed “Creation” and will not Netflix it yet until we get away from the controversy being such a hot topic at the Kidder household. I will try to see this when it comes out. Here is the web site for the movie.

Hat tip to Todd Wood.

Now playing: Alleged The Movie - Trailer
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I Am a Paleontologist

As alluded to in the previous post, here is a delightful video by They Might Be Giants off of their recent CD Here Comes Science called “I Am A Paleontologist.” Enjoy.

In the Mail

Daniel Harrel's Nature's Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith (Living Theology) just came in the mail. I am looking forward to reading it. My nine-year-old girl Madeline just peered at it and took in the title, then said “You've been looking forward to this, haven't you?” We haven't had that conversation yet. Of course, my four-year-old is running around singing “I am a paleontologist!” by They Might Be Giants. One thing at a time.

Theology Degrees Online: The Top 12 Creationist Blogs

Reader Tim pointed me toward a good page on the Theology Degrees Online site that lists the top creationist blogs. I would disagree with the equation of ID with creationism, since ID is only one form of creationism, but it is a very instructive list and would serve as a good starting point for a class on religion and science.

Now playing: Eric Tingstad, Nancy Rumbel & Spencer Brewer - Shenandoah
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Friday, February 18, 2011

A Move to Repeal the Louisiana “Academic Freedom” Bill

Panda's Thumb points us to an article by Lauri Lebo on the movement afoot to repeal the “stealth creationism” bill that was passed in Louisiana in 2008, allowing public school teachers latitude about what to bring into class as supplemental material when teaching about evolution and to emphasize the “weaknesses” of the theory. She writes of David Kopplin, a high school student who is challenging the bill. She writes:

I’ve long had a soft spot for young people standing up to religious bullying. So I want to give a shout out to Zack Kopplin, a Baton Rouge Magnet High School Senior. Kopplin is leading a campaign to repeal the stealth creationist law that is the 2008 Louisiana Science Eduction Act.

In December, Kopplin stood up to the Louisiana Family Forum, a Christian organization that had been trying to get creationist-language inserted into state public school textbooks. LFF members had argued that the proposed textbooks were biased in favor of evolution. (Reality is just so unfair!) Kopplin led a campaign to lobby the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to side with sound science. Due in large part to his efforts, board members, by an 8-2 vote, agreed to proceed with the purchase of biology textbooks.

As Ms. Lebo writes, Louisiana is the only state that passed one of these bills that was proposed but a whole mess of them were proposed in different states across the nation. Given what happened in Livingston Parrish a few months back, I hope he succeeds.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips & Harry Williamson - Gypsy Suite - Movement IV: The Crystal Ball
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

“What Genesis Doesn't Say”

The Christian Century had an article1 that escaped my attention, back in November of last year on the rise of modern creationism and the misinterpretation of Genesis. It is behind a subscription wall, so I cannot quote liberally but I will try to give you the gist of it. The author, Conor Cunningham, has this to say:
MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE that according to the Bible, there has been a cosmic Fall as a result of the sin of the first humans, and death was a consequence of this supposed Fall. Many such approaches to scripture are lamentably lacking in theological sophistication. In certain respects, some of the approaches recommended by no doubt sincere religious believers are more consonant with atheism than with the orthodox Christian tradition of scriptural interpretation.
As those of you that read this blog know, this is something that I have been struggling with for quite some time—the idea that modern protestant fundamentalist evangelical Christianity has really gone off the rails and is flirting with some very unsound doctrine. That frustration really came home to me a few weeks ago.

Interestingly, he points out a passage that has great significance for the position advocating the existence of a historical Adam. In the NIV, Romans 5:12 reads:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
However, according to Cunningham, the original Greek reads:
Death came to all insofar as all sinned
When we add the first part of the passage to the text, it takes on completely new meaning, firmly rooting Adam in a place and time. Without that preface, original sin takes on a more generally Eastern Orthodox flavor in which all are born with the capacity and inclination to sin but not actually “in sin” as protestant theology has generally come to understand the concept. Sin was separation from God, which leads to decay.

The article is a bit slow-going in places and I don't agree with all of his conclusions but I would recommend it if you can find it.

1Cunningham, C. (2010). What Genesis doesn't say. Christian Century, 127(23), 22-25.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kansas Vs. Darwin

Josh Rosenau over at Thoughts from Kansas reminds us that during Darwin Day week, there is a streaming video called “Kansas Vs. Darwin” at the Kansas Vs. Darwin site as well as a number of other resources. The film will stream free for thirty days, through March 2, 2011. Stop by.

Now playing: David Lanz - Song for Monet
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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

John Freshwater Files an Appeal

From Dean Narciso of the Columbia Dispatch:

John Freshwater has appealed last month's decision by the Mount Vernon school board to fire him for teaching creationism and religious doctrine in his middle-school science classroom.

The 33-page appeal, filed in Mount Vernon Common Pleas Court on Tuesday, argues that state laws and school procedures protecting Freshwater's rights were violated, a hearing referee's conclusions were flawed and the school's principal contributed to confusion and poor communication of school rules.

Not sure what the appeal will bring up that the case did not, but I will be curious to find out.

Now playing: Malcolm Dalglish - Northumbrian Lullabye
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Hugh Ross on Evolution

Sandwalk points us to a two minute video of Hugh Ross in which he tries to educate an audience on evolution and fails miserably. He clearly knows nothing about either evolution or the fossil record. This is embarrassing.

For one thing, he states that most mutations are harmful. Mutations are only harmful if they disrupt the genome in such a way that reduced fitness is conferred on the organism. Many mutations are fitness neutral. Mutations do not drive a species to extinction, changing environments drive a species to extinction. That is basic evolutionary ecology. This is worse than William Dembski's math.

He talks about the fossil record by asking where you see the evidence for transitional forms and then focuses only on whales and horses. That is ridiculous. There are transitional forms all over the fossil record at every major level. If this is really the biology coming out of RTB then Todd Wood is correct, they absolutely cannot be trusted for anything.

The comments on Sandwalk's page are priceless. One in particular: “So why didn't God make more dinosaurs and unicorns and dodo birds? Or maybe he just doesn't love them as much as he loves horses and whales. He sure seems to love roaches and bedbugs, too.”


Monday, February 14, 2011

Armageddon Halted...For Now

According to Wired, the attempts to drill into Lake Vostok, the lake that is buried under 2.2 miles of ice in Antarctica has halted for now because of bad weather. Wired provides a nifty graphic of what is being attempted.

Liat Clark writes:
The team — headed up by the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg — had to call off work just 29 meters [95-foot] short of the end goal because the Antarctic winter is fast closing in. News that they plan to fill the 3,749-meter [12,300-foot] borehole with kerosene to prevent it from freezing will further trouble groups who fear continued research will contaminate the lake.
Yup, God only knows what drilling into that would release.

Now playing: Alex De Grassi - Turning: Turning Back
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

NPR on the State of Science Education

NPR has, on its blog, a post lamenting the recent findings that many high school biology teachers are not adhering to the established curriculum of teaching evolution. In a post titled “Speaking in Defense of Science,” Marcelo Gleiser writes:
Now, many will say that they are not anti-science per se, just against the science that clashes with their religious beliefs. So, antibiotics are fine, but the theory of evolution is not. If only they'd take the time to learn about how antibiotics work and about how over-prescribing can result in germ mutations that render some antibiotics ineffective. It's is a real-time illustration of the theory of evolution at work.
It is one of so many examples of how evolution works in our lives. I just finished up a CFSI post that delves into the evidence from pseudogenes and ERVs that is dang near impossible to explain using an ID or YEC framework. If we live in a God-created universe that works on principles established by Him billions of years ago and that behaves in an orderly, knowable fashion, then what we know is that science is real.

Human Fossil Record, Part 3

My next BioLogos installment is up, here. It deals with the initial discovery of Australopithecus and the nature of palaeospecies. Comments are, of course, welcome.

Now playing: Jean Michel Jarre - Equinoxe Part 7
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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Great Article Title!

There is a report on Fox News about the rise of homeschooling. The title? “Educating Our Children: The Evolution of Home Schooling.” I laughed long and hard when I read that. The first paragraph reads:
Anne Gebhardt’s kids are learning about geography -- in her dining room in Bedford, Texas. It’s not your typical schoolhouse, but it’s one that Gebhardt says is serving her six children well. "We can teach our religious values to our children freely,” says Gebhardt. “We can teach anything that we want."
Yes, we can teach that a flood once covered the entire earth, even though there is not a scrap of evidence for it. We can teach that the earth was created six thousand years ago, even though there is not a scrap of evidence for it. See, we can teach anything we want!

I sympathize, though. We homeschool our children because of the terrible quality of the public schools and the astronomical prices of the private schools but we make dang sure what they do get from the home school curriculum is a good education in the arts, humanities, language and civics in the process. Having said that, my wife and I are currently debating what to do about the advanced part of the science section because it covers, you guessed it! Creationism. I have told my wife that I will not challenge our ten and eight year olds but I will provide an alternate perspective if asked. I do not want them to have to choose at this age and I don't want to turn them away from God because of my detestation of recent earth creationism.
Now playing: Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly - No Blues
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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

“Bible Study Fellowship” And The Problem of Modern Protestant Evangelical Christianity

I went to Bible Study Fellowship (BSF ) last night, as I do every Monday night so I can participate in an organized Bible study. I have been doing this for six years now and we have gone through Acts, Matthew, Romans, John, The Life of Moses, Genesis and now, Isaiah. The notes that come with the questions that one takes home and answers are somewhat insightful and bring in some aspects of history and culture along with good, sound theology. The questions, on the other hand, are often one-dimensional, asking the participant to simply regurgitate the verses verbatim or provide short answers to the questions without deviating from the text. In some instances, the questions can lead to new insights and can be thought-provoking. Very often, however, they are not.

In some ways, BSF follows the model of the “inductive Bible study” that was so popular in the eighties and nineties and which was the bread and butter of groups like InterVarsity, Campus Crusade and Navigators. This constructs the Bible study such that one reads the text and only the text to glean from it scriptural and spiritual insights. Probably, if one used that method in concert with other kinds of study, it would provide a fruitful avenue of spiritual growth.

But that is the problem.

Most protestant evangelical Christians that I know do not do that. They rely on the inductive study alone for spiritual growth, eschewing any commentaries by those that have studied the text in its original language and who have paid attention to word usage, cultural norms, literature type and the range of possible textual interpretations based on those variables. This can, and often does, result in a flat view of scripture that is lacking in symbolic richness and depth. Worse, it can lead to a skewed interpretation of scripture that derives only from the flat text.

One of the by-products of this practice is the tendency toward distrusting and rejecting any possible scientific conclusions that do not appear to comport with the face-value reading of the text. Enter young earth creationism, a reading of scripture that, two hundred years ago, would have seemed very strange to the average Christian.

Twice, my BSF leader used the term “evolutionist” when he really meant “atheist.” During discussion, another man, who is well-meaning, pleasant and very intelligent, referred to the “evolution religion” as though it were fact. I am quite convinced neither one of them would be able to spot evolution on a map but it sure sounds good to take a swipe at those mean, evil atheists.

Coming away from BSF last night, I had two main thoughts:

  • That, for all of its energy and exuberance, the modern protestant fundamentalist evangelical mindset can be very draining and wearing in its simplicity and one-dimensionality.
  • If the leaders of BSF ever found this blog, they wouldn't even pay my bus fare out of there.
I know that I have painted a large brush stroke here and part of this is just disillusionment and frustration talking. I know that there is much good and right in this mindset. But, as Mark Noll found, there is also much that is wrong.
Now playing: David Lanz - Song For Monet
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Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Fable For Our Time

Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Tribune News Service serves up a fable inspired by the recent finding that many high school biology teachers are loathe to teach evolution in the classroom. He writes:
Once upon a time, there lived a stupid giant. The giant had not always been stupid.

Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say the giant had once revered intelligence, reason and the byproducts thereof.

Indeed, the giant was renowned for an ingenuity and standard of living that made it the envy of the world.

But much of the world did more than envy the giant.

Much of the world admired and respected it.

Its basic decency, along with its strength and intelligence, set it apart.

There came a time, however, when, though the giant retained its strength and arguably even its decency , it lost its intelligence.

No one can say exactly how and when the loss occurred.

There was no great blast of thunder and lightning to herald it, no sudden instant when the giant's intelligence plummeted dramatically from the instant before.

No, stupidity crept over the giant with the stealth of twilight, a product less of one abrupt moment than of a thousand moments of complacency , of resting on laurels, of allowing curiosity to be teased and bullied out of bright children, of dumbing down textbooks so kids could get better grades with less work, of using "elite" like a curse word.

And, of behaving as if knowing things, and being able to extrapolate from and otherwise make critical use of, the things one knows, was a betrayal of some fundamental human authenticity -some need to keep it real.

Stupidity stole over the giant until it could no longer tell science from faith, or conven tional wisdom from actual wisdom and in any event, valued ideological purity above them all.

Stupidity snaked over the giant until science teachers shrank from teaching sci ence, history books con tained history that wasn't history , late-night comics got easy laughs from people on the street who could not say when the War of 1812 was fought, political leaders told outright lies with blithe smiles and no fear of being caught, and you would not have been surprised to hear that someone had fixed mathematics, so that 2+2 could now equal 17, thus preserving the all-important self-esteem of secondgrade kids.

Some regarded the giant's stupidity as a danger.

They reasoned that when one is so big that one's merest movement or slightest utterance affects the entire world, it's a good idea if those movements and utterances are animated by something more than autonomic function.

Others saw the giant's stupidity as an opportunity .

They learned eagerly until they surpassed the giant's intellect.

They grew until they rivaled the giant's size and strength.

They did not attempt to match the giant's decency .

They considered decency a hindrance.

And the giant?
It sat on its haunches in the mud as the world changed about it and new giants rose and shook their fists.

The giant did not notice.

It was watching "The Jersey Shore" on MTV.
I am reminded of the great line in the movie Ladyhawke, where the evil cardinal, when told of the seemingly insignificant escape of a thief he had jailed, remarked: “Great storms announce themselves with a single breeze...”

After all, it is not like they just quit teaching biology overnight...

Now playing: Yes - I'm Running
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Scientists To Pierce Frozen Lake

Russian Scientists are set to pierce a lake in Antarctica that has been sealed for over fifteen million years. RedOrbit reports:
Alexei Turkeyev, head of the Russian polar Vostok Station, told Reuters by satellite phone that scientists have “only a bit left to go.” His team has been drilling for weeks in a race to reach the lake -- buried 12,000 feet beneath the polar ice cap -- before the end of the brief Antarctic summer.

With the quickly returning onset of winter, scientists will be forced to leave on the last flight out on February 6. “It's minus 40 (Fahrenheit) outside,” said Turkeyev. “But whatever, we're working. We're feeling good. There's only 5 meters left until we get to the lake so it'll all be very soon.”

Scientists are hoping the lake will reveal new forms of life and show how life evolved may have evolved [sic] in the times before the ice age. The lake could also offer scientists a glimpse of what conditions exist for life in similar extremes on Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds of Instpundit, who writes:“Admit it, it sounds just like a thousand horror-movie setups.”

Now playing: Genesis - Twilight Alehouse
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Saturday, February 05, 2011

New Information on Coppedge Suit

The lawyer for David Coppedge is considering refiling the suit in light of a new court decision. In a storyby Beige Luciano-Adams in the Pasadena Star:
[Coppedge]... filed suit with the Los Angeles Superior in April of last year, claiming he was demoted at JPL for propagating his beliefs at work, citing protection under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

A JPL spokeswoman said Coppedge's "suit is without merit."

But while the original lawsuit rested on claims of discrimination under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, Coppedge's legal team is now considering a new tactics - including taking a page from the Supreme Court's Jan. 19 in NASA v. Nelson.

Two weeks ago the high court ruled against JPL employees who sought to terminate background checks at the facility. The employees claimed those checks violated their civil rights.

"David was terminated and the NASA v. Nelson decision came down
... which changes the case in material ways," said Coppedge's attorney, Bill Becker.

Becker said he would seek to amend the complaint within the next two weeks to include a wrongful termination claim - adding that a First Amendment claim might also be on the table.
Here is the WaPo story on the NASA vs. Nelson ruling, which involved whether or not the federal government had the right to conduct background checks for prospective employees even if they were subcontractors. But Eugene Volokh writes:
"The real question is who is making the decision - that was clear in (NASA v. Nelson), but not so clear here. Just because a research center is federally funded is not enough to make it a government actor," Volokh said of JPL, which is managed by the California Institute of Technology for NASA.
Read the whole thing.

Now playing: McCoy Tyner, With Al Foster and Stanley Clarke - Trane-Like
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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Should You Be So Curious...

The Ark Encounter Will Open On...

I should point out that this is actually the first day of spring and the builders have not said exactly when in Spring, 2014 it will open. So the clock may be off by a bit.
Now playing: William Ackerman - Visiting
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Local Good News: Gray Fossil Site

One of the local stations, WATE has picked up an AP story that the state of Tennessee is set to buy land next to the Gray fossil site, near Johnson City, Tennessee. The author writes:
The state is set to buy a tract of land next to the Gray Fossil site.

The Johnson City Press reports the parcel in Gray contains just over 14 acres.

Site museum director Jeanne Zavada has been discussing the purchase since 2006 with the family who owns it.

Zavada says the Tennessee Board of Regents negotiated with the family, and the state will pay the appraised value of the property. It was recently appraised at $178,000.

The Regents are involved because East Tennessee State University operates the site where the current digs and the museum are located.

The fossil site now includes less than five acres.

Here is the website for the museum. My family and I visited the site a year or so ago and had a great time. They have a nice museum and active excavations of Miocene sediments on the grounds.

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The Meaning of “Naturalism”

In the BioLogos Blog, Ard Louis addresses the differences between “methodological naturalism” and “philosophical naturalism” in the first of three parts here. It focuses more on how BioLogos should respond to criticisms about its take on science and scripture but is instructive for general purposes. In it, he cuts deep into the idea that we can use the science of the natural world to “prove” the existence of God:
Despite warnings from great thinkers such as Pascal, Newman and Barth4, the idea that an unbiased observer should be able to use science to find unambiguous evidence for God’s existence is remarkably resilient among Christians. Furthermore, many attempts at natural theology rely heavily on value-laden metaphors that come from popularizations of science. This cuts both ways. On the one hand Archdeacon Paley saw the hand of God in the intricate watch-like “contrivances of nature”, while on the other hand Richard Dawkins sees a pitiless and indifferent “blind watchmaker” in what he believes are the wasteful and purposeless processes of evolution. Although their conclusions couldn’t be more different, both are engaging in a natural theology based on similar rationalistic assumptions.
He argues, as I have argued, that it is an improper use of science to construct an apologetic position for the existence of God. Ultimately, such an argument can only rise to the level of “personal incredulity” that such a finely tuned universe can be the product of chance. The point is that we can, from a scientific perspective, never know whether or not God exists. This position is deeply uncomfortable for your average Christian who, intuitively, want to be able to hang their hat on something tangible to bolster their faith in an invisible God. It is this perspective that has largely fueled the Intelligent Design movement which, because of the limitations of this model has run up against a brick wall called ‘lack of testable hypotheses.’

Put simply, just because my hypothesis is wrong, it doesn't make yours correct. If there is no test for yours, we go back to the drawing board.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

“High school biology teachers reluctant to endorse evolution in class”

So reads the headline from PhysOrg. The story, out of Penn State University, reads in part:
"Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," write Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, professors of political science at Penn State, in today's (Jan. 28) issue of Science.

The researchers examined data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, a representative sample of 926 public high school biology instructors. They found only about 28 percent of those teachers consistently implement National Research Council recommendations calling for introduction of evidence that evolution occurred, and craft lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking disparate topics in biology.
I think that a lot of teachers are running scared because of the shift in political climate in the country and the increasing prevalence of “academic freedom” legislation that has been passed. It is easier to not make waves then to risk the ire of a parent that doesn't agree with the teaching of evolution. The principle problem is, however worse:
[Authors] Berkman and Plutzer conclude that “the cautious 60 percent fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments.” As a result, “they may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists.”
This allows students to graduate from high school without the necessary biological science understanding without being challenged until they get to college. As a result, the overall level of scientific knowledge of the discipline declines every year.

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The Firing of David Coppedge from NASA

Evolution News and Views has an update on the suit filed by David Coppedge, the worker at the Cassini spacecraft project at Caltech. Casey Luskin writes:
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) just dumped a lot of fuel on the fire of David Coppedge's discrimination lawsuit by firing him on Monday. Coppedge's lawsuit against JPL alleges discrimination because he was prevented from talking about intelligent design (ID).

This could potentially expose JPL to a claim of wrongful termination and increase the merits of Coppedge's claim that JPL retaliated against him. According to Coppedge's attorney William Becker, JPL claims the firing resulted from downsizing in the face of budget issues, but Coppedge is the most senior member of the team that oversees the computers on NASA and JPL's Cassini Mission to Saturn. Coppedge doesn't seem at all like the first person who would normally be forced to leave in such a situation, but obviously, JPL has other considerations.

This certainly makes it look bad for JPL and Caltech in terms of how they treated Coppedge for seemingly exercising his First Amendment rights. Luskin contines:
Those other considerations began in 2009 when the administration found out that Coppedge had occasionally had friendly discussions about ID with fellow employees. Coppedge was not pushy in these conversations; if a colleague wasn't interested, Coppedge dropped the matter. Nonetheless, one administrator yelled at Coppedge and ordered him to stop "pushing religion," which led to Coppedge filing a claim of harassment.
We will have to wait for more information from the trial, itself before more can be said. This may, in fact, be an incidence of discrimination. That would be sad, not just for David Coppedge, but for those of us who think that scientists ought to behave better.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

More Evidence For A Gradual Shift to Bipedalism

Discovery News has a story on work that is being done on early hominid locomotion. Jennifer Viegas writes:
Early human ancestors stopped swinging in trees and started walking on the ground sometime between 4.2 and 3.5 million years ago, according to a new study.

This key moment, when our ancestors became anatomically and behaviorally less ape-like, coincides with increased cooling, more defined seasonality, and a grassland growth spurt. All transformed former forest habitats into more varied ones, forcing our very early relatives to change their ways.

"With the trees being farther apart, it became energetically advantageous for hominids to cross the gaps bipedally," said Gabriele Macho, lead author of the study that was published in the latest issue of Folia Primatologica.
This follows on the heels (sorry) of the recent studies on Ardipithecus, where it was found that this hominid had a skeletal pattern that was adapted not just for the trees but for bipedal walking as well. How long was this pattern maintained? Viegas continues:
The scientists observed that the Australopithecus anamensis wrist bones exhibited pressure loads associated with modern arboreal animals. The analyzed Australopithecus afarensis bones conversely showed stress loads comparable to those of more terrestrial species, including modern humans.

The researchers concluded that the important shift in early hominid lifestyle happened around the time when A. afarensis first emerged.
A. anamensis is the form that followed, at least chronologically, Ardipithecus ramidus. Whether or not there is a direct ancestor/descendant relationship there, it is clear that the transitional elements in Ardipithecus were continued in the hominid line and that A. anamensis maintained a similar adaptation to the environment. The true changes in bipedalism and adaptation came with A. afarensis. This is yet another piece of the puzzle at this critical point in our history.

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