Friday, July 29, 2011

Archaeopteryx No Longer First Bird

Sorry, the title is a tad hyperbolic but it fits with the article. A re-evaluation of Archaeopteryx has led to its removal from the subclass Aves and placed within the theropod dinosaurs. A large group of these had feathers and it is from this group that true birds arose. As the story in the Independent notes, however:

The reclassification of Archaeopteryx is expected to be exploited by creationists, who are likely to pick up on the fact that scientists are appearing to change their mind about the fossil's iconic status as the first bird, but this would be wrong, said Lawrence Witmer, professor of anatomy at Ohio University.

The reclassification does not alter the fact that Archaeopteryx possessed features that are both reptilian and avian, nor does it change the fact that birds evolved from feathered dinosaurs, he said. "What this does is change our view of Archaeopteryx. For 150 years it's been our oldest and most prominent bird. Part of the reason why we should care about this is that Archaeopteryx is probably one of the most famous fossils ever," Professor Witmer said. "It changes a lot in terms of how we view early birds, and how early birds evolved."

Indeed the evidence is now so strong that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs that recently the class aves was redesignated as a subclass of reptilia. The new fossil is thought to be around 155 million years old and is called Xiaotingia. Pharyngula has a nice rundown on what the new fossil means.

Now playing: Steve Hackett - Cavalcanti
via FoxyTunes

Monday, July 25, 2011

New “Ape-Man” Exhibit at the Creation Museum

Christian News Today has an article on a new exhibit at the Creation Museum that is being touted as the “Ape-Man” exhibit. They write:
“There are and always have been – since the sixth day of creation recorded in Genesis – apes and humans. But there never have been any ‘ape-men’ as part of an evolutionary process,” said museum founder and Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham. “We are thrilled about being able to employ some unique and exciting technology to help teach biblical truths to our museum guests.”

Rather than use a large number of signs and models that would take up a lot of exhibit space, a video monitor has been installed on which people will be able to see one of the museum’s eminent scientists, Dr. Menton, addressing the topic of apes and humans. As Dr. Menton speaks on the video, he uses a laser to point at various parts of skeletons found in the actual glass cases below.
So what kind of technology do they use?
An anatomist with a Ph.D. from an Ivy League school (Brown University), Dr. Menton shows how apes and humans are quite different (contrary to evolutionary belief). The laser then shines on the particular parts of the skeletons, as if Dr. Menton is live on the monitor and actually using the laser pointer right there.

The technology behind the exhibit is credited to museum designer Doug Henderson who was trying to think of a way to have parts of skeletons light up as they were being taught about in accompanying videos. LEDs and fiber optics weren’t practical because of wiring issues, so he then hit on the idea of laser pointers. “While the technology isn’t new, the unique aspect of this exhibit is how the lasers interact with the video and seem to be coming from Dr. Menton’s laser pointer on the monitor,” Henderson said.
The exhibit is not listed on the Creation Museum's website's list of exhibits, which just has the Walk Through Biblical History, Dinosaur Den, Natural Selection is Not Evolution and the Noah's Ark Construction Site. This is odd since the Ape-Man exhibit is supposed to open this week. In fact, there is nothing on the home page about it at all. This may change in a few days.

If the exhibit is exactly as described, there are two major problems with it. First, nobody is ever going to argue that humans and chimpanzees are similar skeletally. That is absurd. There has been over 5 million years of evolution in between the LCA and either branch. Second, the DNA evidence, including the shared genetic mistakes, the human Chromosome 2 fusion of two chimpanzee chromosomes, and the ERVs are being completely ignored.

I look forward to a better description of this exhibit since I am not going to get up there anytime soon, at least not for $24.95. I can almost get into Dollywood for that amount.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Few Cartoons to Brighten Your Day...

Texas Board of Education Approves Supplememental Texts as Written

The Texas State Board of Education approved the supplemental material as written, rather than taking the supplements from other groups, one of which was International Databases, LLC. The NCSE has this to say about the verdict:

“This is a huge victory for Texas students and teachers,” said Josh Rosenau, NCSE programs and policy director, who testified at the hearings this week. In his testimony, Rosenau urged the board to approve the supplements--recommended by a review panel largely composed of scientists and science educators--without amendments, and to reject International Database's creationist submission. The board did just that, and asked for only minimal changes to the approved supplements.

In hearings yesterday, NCSE members and allies showed up in force. At least four times as many people testified in favor of the supplements as written, versus those opposing the supplements or demanding significant changes.

Josh writes on his blog that the fight is not over and won't be until all of the strong science supplements are approved. The issues that are mostly dealt with in the story involve biopoesis rather than evolution of later forms although according to Rosenau, they got evolution wrong also. Not surprised.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Texas: Never A Dull Moment

The Boston Globe is reporting on a flare-up in Texas yesterday at the Texas State Board of Education. Jim Vertuno writes:
The board’s new chairwoman, former biology teacher Barbara Cargill, disputes the theory of evolution. First elected in 2004, she was appointed chairwoman earlier this month by Governor Rick Perry, who is considering a run for president. Cargill is considered one of the panel’s more conservative members.

The new teaching materials are necessary because the state could not afford to buy new textbooks this year, leaving students to use some that are several years old. The board is considering materials recommended by state Education Commissioner Robert Scott. A vote is scheduled today.

One conservative group, Texans for a Better Science Education, put out a call to pack yesterday’s public hearing with testimony urging board members to adopt materials that question Charles Darwin’s theory on the origin of life. But much of the day’s testimony was dominated by people who support teaching evolution.

“I don’t want my children’s public school teachers to teach faith and God in a science classroom,’’ said the Rev. Kelly Allen of University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio. “True religion can handle truth in all its forms. Evolution is solid science.’’
Well spoken. It looks like Texas is in for more fun in the coming years.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More Evidence of Neandertal/Early Modern Hybridization

Science Daily is reporting on yet more evidence that Neandertal DNA is found in the modern genome. They write:
Dr. [Damian] Labuda and his team almost a decade ago had identified a piece of DNA (called a haplotype) in the human X chromosome that seemed different and whose origins they questioned. When the Neanderthal genome was sequenced in 2010, they quickly compared 6000 chromosomes from all parts of the world to the Neanderthal haplotype. The Neanderthal sequence was present in peoples across all continents, except for sub-Saharan Africa, and including Australia.
The authors of the article in the Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution write that the Neandertal contribution is 9%, which they refer to as “notable.” This means that the mixing between the two groups was not incidental or isolated. It was long-term and extensive. How long it went on is anybody’s guess but it suggests that, if the Out of Africa model is still true, there were several different migrations of modern humans and that it is only the recent one in which there was no admixture. This seriously damages the hypothesis that Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo neandertalensis were separate species.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Well, That Didn't Take Long...

Barbara Cargill, the new head of the Texas State Board of Education wasted no time in stating that she was concerned about the faiths of her fellow board members. According to the American Independent:
In a speech delivered to the conservative pro-family group Texas Eagle Forum last week, newly appointed chair Barbara Cargill (R-Woodlands) questioned the faith of her fellow board members, saying that she was one of only “six true conservative Christians on the board,” the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network noted.

The statement irked Republican board member and vice chair Bob Craig, who phoned Cargill right away, the Houston Press reported.

“I was offended that her comments seemed to indicate that only six people on the board were Christians,” Craig said. “I am a Christian and very active in First United Methodist Church here in Lubbock. I have very strong religious beliefs, so that kind of comment did not sit well with me.”

Thomas Ratliff, a moderate Republican new to the board, issued his own response criticizing Cargill’s remarks.

“It’s an unfortunate start to her tenure as chairwoman,” said Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant. “These kind of comments only further divide the board rather than bring us together for the benefit of our students and our schools. I look forward to better days ahead for our new chair.”
Cargill, who has been on record as supporting young earth creationism, seems to have taken in the Answers in Genesis attitude toward Christians who are not YEC. That is unfortunate, although not entirely surprising. Last year, she proposed a change to the Texas science curriculum that would ask science teachers to tell students that there are different estimates for the age of the universe. I wrote a letter to Ms. Cargill last year, in response to comments she made about “gaps that don't link species changing and evolving” that never got answered.

This is a tense situation in Texas. Barbara Cargill will only make it worse.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Discovery News Reports on “Neandertals’ Last Stand”

Disovery News reports on the excavation of the Mousterian site of Byzovaya, in Russia, in the Ural Mountains that has been dated to 33,000 years ago. Jennifer Viegas writes:
A Neanderthal-style toolkit found in the frigid far north of Russia's Ural Mountains dates to 33,000 years ago and may mark the last refuge of Neanderthals before they went extinct, according to a new Science study.

Another possibility is that anatomically modern humans crafted the hefty tools using what's known as Mousterian technology associated with Neanderthals, but anthropologists believe that's unlikely.

"We consider it overwhelmingly probable that the Mousterian technology we describe was performed by Neanderthals, and thus that they indeed survived longer, that is until 33,000 years ago, than most other scientists believe," co-author Jan Mangerud, a professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bergen and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, told Discovery News.
Even before I got to the bottom of the article and saw Erik Trinkaus’ comments, I was thinking “What about the Neandertal site of Zafarraya, which is certainly 31,700 and possibly as recent as 27,000?” I think this does extend the range of the late Neandertals but there is scant evidence that this is their last stand.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More From Josh Rosenau on the Miss USA Pageant

Josh Rosenau guest-writing for Scientific American has more thoughts on the Miss USA pageant and the evolution question. He has a different take than mine. He writes:
Miss USA certainly doesn't set education policy, but the state pageant winners – especially the one wearing the Miss USA crown – have broad reach into households that may not read Scientific American, but who do vote for school boards and press their children's teachers on the coverage of evolution. Knowing how these role models think about evolution is important not just because these women have a bully pulpit, but because they are chosen to represent their states, and it is rare that we can see a national cross-section of how the non-scientist public views evolution (even as self-selected heavily vetted a cross-section as this group of pageant-winners). Indeed, understanding how Miss USA contestants talk about evolution can help us better understand how politicians talk about evolution, and how we can better promote science education.
In retrospect, he is probably right in some ways about the pageant giving us a cross-section of views on evolution. It certainly reinforced how badly evolution education really is in this country, a point also noted by Dr. Rosenau.He also writes:
Like the Miss USA contestants, most politicians (excluding those on local school boards or state boards of education) will have little opportunity to influence how evolution is taught. In answering questions about evolution during campaigns, their goal is rarely to indicate a clear conception of how science works and why evolution is central to modern biology. Instead, they must alienate as few constituents as possible, keep their base happy, and avoid an embarrassing misstep that could draw harmful national mockery.
I am not so sure this is true. It may be true on the democrat side but, increasingly, it is not true on the Republican side, as the recent examples of Michelle Bachmann's endorsement of Intelligent Design and the spate of “academic freedom” bills that have been pushed by politicians in Louisiana, Indiana, New Mexico, and Tennessee to name just a few. In all, there are eleven states that currently or have recently had academic freedom legislation promoted. Louisiana drew nationalwide condemnation from science organizations for its LSEA last year and it didn't phase them. A recent attempt to have the bill repealed failed by a 5-to-1 margin. I think these politicians are trying to keep their constituents happy. The problem is that many of their constituents are young earth creationists. The problem is not that they don't have much influence. The problem is that they have too much.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sorry for the light posting. I am trying to get my next BioLogos post, on early Homo, finished. More soon.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Redating of Homo erectus Remains Validates Original Dates

The 20-meter terrace of the Solo River was excavated in the 1930s, yielding a nice cache of Homo erectus remains from the site of Ngandong and Sambungmachan. Using biostratigraphy, these remains were thought to be around 150-200 thousand years old.

Approximately fifteen years ago, Carl Swisher dated the Solo River terrace deposits containing the Ngandong hominin fossil remains by Uranium series and electron spin resonance to between 35 and 50 000 years ago. This put the temporal range of the Indonesian hominins at some 1.8 million years and surprised the palaeoanthropological community mightily. Given that modern humans could be found in the region from 50 000 years ago (Willandra Lakes Hominid 50), this gave considerable ammunition to the argument that there had been no continuity between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens in the region, supporting the replacement model of the origins of modern humans. While support for the replacement model was considered to have support from other quarters, nobody was prepared for 50 000 yea-old Homo erectus remains. Two initial criticisms were leveled at Swisher's methodology. First, it was thought that the fossils had been redeposited from older sediments and, second, Swisher had dated the excavation remains, not the original undisturbed sediments.

Now it seems that a redating of the 20-meter terrace have vindicated the older dates. In an article in PLoS, Indriatti, Swisher and others have arrived at much older dates. A news release from New York University has this to say:
The team applied two different dating techniques to the sites. Like earlier work, they used the techniques—U-series and Electron Spin Resonance, or ESR—that are applied to fossilized teeth. They also used a technique called argon-argon dating that is applied to volcanic minerals in the sediments. All three methods use radioactive decay in different ways to assess age and all yielded robust and methodologically valid results, but the ages were inconsistent with one another.

The argon-argon results yielded highly precise ages of about 550,000 years old on pumices—very light, porous volcanic products found at Ngandong and Jigar.

“Pumices are hard to rework without breaking them, and these ages are qu good, so this suggests that the hominins and fauna are this old as well,” said project geochronologist Carl Swisher of Rutgers University.

By contrast, the oldest of the U-series and ESR ages, which were conducted at Australian National University by Rainer GrĂ¼n, are just 143,000 years.
The PLoS article is here. The authors conclude:
At the very least, it now seems possible to bracket the age of the deposits at Ngandong and Jigar with a maxima of 546 ka based on the argon results and a minima of 143 ka based on the oldest of our fully modeled combined ESR/U-series ages.
If the middle Pleistocene 40Ar/39Ar ages better reflect the age of the Solo River 20 meter terrace deposits and hominins, the site of Ngandong remains a relatively late source of H. erectus; however, these H. erectus would not be the contemporaries of Neandertals and modern humans, and their chronology would widen the gap between the last surviving H. erectus and the population from Flores – whose source population has been argued to be Indonesian H. erectus; although this point is contested. Instead, the Ngandong hominins would be contemporaries of the H. heidelbergensis from Atapuerca, Spain and elsewhere in Europe, and, possibly the archaic H. sapiens specimen from Bodo (Ethiopia), which might favor arguments that they are more closely affiliated with these taxa and differ from H. erectus. Such ages for Ngandong would suggest that a series of geographically relatively isolated lineages of hominins lived during the middle Pleistocene.
There was evidently a considerable amount of variation present in these hominins and it seemed to us1 that there was quite a bit in the Chinese Homo erectus sample as well. We wouldn't take the steps of calling them separate species but the differences were definitely there.

More pieces of the puzzle.

1Kidder, J. H., & Durband, A. C. (2004). A re-evaluation of the metric diversity within Homo erectus. Journal of human evolution, 46(3), 297-313.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Young Earth Creationism in New Hampshire?

Usually, depictions of New England are of a progressive society that has cast off the bonds of provinciality and discrimination in favor of higher education and human rights. It is the land of Ivy League colleges and old homes and...young earth creationism? To be sure, there is considerable diversity of opinion under the surface and each state has its own way of dealing with things but, by and large, there is a reserve there that characterizes the region.

But now news comes from New Hampshire (always just a bit out of step with the rest of the region) of two new bills being promoted under the guise of “academic freedom.” As David Brooks of the Nashua Telegraph writes
Rep. Jerry Bergevin, R-Manchester, has sponsored an LSR [Legislative Service Request] “requiring the teaching of evolution in public schools as a theory.”

That sort of wording is often used to imply that evolutionary theory, the product of a century of evidence and study by tens of thousands of researchers, is nothing more than a complex guess. It confuses, I think, the word “theory” in everyday use (what science calls a hypothesis) with a scientific theory, which is as solid as most of the material we call fact.

The argument goes that since evolution is “just a theory,” it shouldn’t be taught as if it were, say, the Pythagorean theorem (which is also “just a theory,” come to think of it).

“My LSR is not anti-evolution, I am anti-indoctrination,” Bergevin wrote in an e-mail response to my query.

Bergevin also wrote: “This LSR would include a study of the proponents’ ideology and position on atheism.”

I’m not sure what he means by evolution’s “proponents,” since that constitutes most of the world’s scientific community, but this is the sort of detail that can be worked out as a bill is drafted.

Rep. Gary Hopper, R- Weare, approaches the matter more directly with an LSR “requiring instruction in intelligent design in the public schools.”

In a phone interview, Hopper said his concern with evolution as a science involves the beginning of life.

“Darwin’s theory is basically antiquated,” he argued.
Funny, I thought evolution was a theory. I am not sure which is worse: the fact that those promoting these bills don't know what a theory is, or that they don't do basic scientific research to find out. The only reason Hopper thinks that Darwin's theory is antiquated is because he has absolutely no idea what Darwin's theory actually teaches. This kind of legislation is almost inevitable no matter where you go because everybody likes the idea of “academic freedom” even if they have no idea what the agenda behind the recent push for it is.

Yet another reason why politicians shouldn't be involved in the education process.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Geocentrism Goes Catholic!

The Chicago Tribune is reporting on a small but growing group within Catholicism that has embraced “original church doctrine” that the earth is in the center of the universe. Manya A. Brachear writes:
“I have no idea who these people are. Are they sincere, or is this a clever bit of theater?” said Brother Guy Consolmagno, the curator of meteorites and spokesman for the Vatican Observatory.

Indeed, those promoting geocentrism argue that heliocentrism, or the centuries-old consensus among scientists that the Earth revolves around the sun, is nothing more than a conspiracy theory to squelch the church's influence.

“Heliocentrism becomes 'dangerous' if it is being propped up as the true system when, in fact, it is a false system,” said Robert Sungenis, leader of a budding movement to get scientists to reconsider. “False information leads to false ideas, and false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions — thus the state of the world today. … Prior to Galileo, the church was in full command of the world; and governments and academia were subservient to her.”
Sungenis attended a conference last year called “Galileo was Wrong, the Church was Right” in which like-minded catholics congregated to discuss the future of geocentrism. The conference, itself, touched on different topics, all of which fall within the young earth creationism rubric.

But here's the corker:
But Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., said the Bible is silent on geocentrism.

"There's a big difference between looking at the origin of the planets, the solar system and the universe and looking at presently how they move and how they are interrelated," Ham said. "The Bible is neither geocentric or heliocentric. It does not give any specific information about the structure of the solar system."
At last count, there are over eighty scripture references that mention a static, non-moving or flat earth. Some notable ones:
Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel, "Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of Aijalon." And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. (Joshua 10:12-13)
As the argument goes, if the earth is not in the center of the universe, then what difference would it have made if the sun stood still? The earth, itself, would still be moving and Joshua would have lost the battle.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. (Matthew 4:8)
One again, if earth is not flat and unmoving, what difference would it have made where they were when the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth? If the writer really is talking about ALL the kingdoms of the earth, as a literal interpretation would argue, then a round earth would have made this impossible.

Interestingly, as Karen Wynn Fonstad points out in her Atlas of Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien's Endor is constructed on an ancient understanding of the earth and its foundations. Although he never mentioned it, he evidently struggled with this as the story evolved, eventually ending up with a history in which the first two ages of Middle Earth take place on a flat earth with an “encircling sea” (a la Job 26:10) while the third age involves a round earth with “new lands” to the west.

Is the earth flat? Of course not. Is it in the center of the universe? No, it isn't. The vast majority of Christians would agree with these conclusions, based on modern science. My point is not that the earth is round or in the center of the universe or that the Bible is in error. My point is that a strict literal reading of these passages that are either implicit or explicit about the earth being in the center of the universe and flat is absolutely unwarranted and that for Ken Ham to assert that the Bible is silent on geocentrism but speaks volumes on the age of the earth is absurd.

Common-sense Christianity hits another roadblock.

New Post Up at CFSI

My post on the Historical Adam is up at CFSI, here at “Kidder's Korner.” It deals with the different interpretations of the Edenic passages and the problems that the study of modern human origins posits for the traditional evangelical position.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Saturday, July 02, 2011

P.Z. Myers Takes Apart Ken Ham

One of Ken Ham's favorite questions is “Were you there?” and he reserves it for people who argue that the earth is billions of years old or that evolution has occurred. Recently, he received a letter from a nine-year old girl. He writes about it here. She wrote:
I went to a NASA display of a moon rock and a lady said, "This Moon-rock is 3.75 billion years old!" Guess what I asked for the first time ever?

"Um, may I ask a question?"

And she said, "Of course."

I said, in my most polite voice, "Were you there?"

Love, Emma B
Ham's response is priceless. He writes on his blog:

Each time I give examples in my blog posts of children who have been influenced by AiG, the atheists go ballistic on their blogs. They hate to read of instances like this. They want to teach these children there is no God and they are just animals in this hopeless and meaningless struggle of this purposeless existence.

Praise the Lord, Emma has such a strong foundation in God’s Word and won’t fall for the atheist lies in their attempts to shake their fist at their Creator God.

His rejoinder to the obvious answer to the question of “no” is that we weren't but God was and he gave us his word to go by. This response is, at once facile, scripturally ignorant and logically unsound. P.Z. Myers, in a very restrained and civil fashion, takes what Ham says and and runs with it in an unsent letter to Emma B., in which he writes:
One serious problem with the "Were you there?" question is that it is not very sincere. You knew the answer already! You knew that woman had not been to the moon, and you definitely knew that she had not been around to see the rock forming 3.75 billion years ago. You knew the only answer she could give was "no," which is not very informative.

Another problem is that if we can only trust what we have seen with our own two eyes in our short lives, then there's very little we can know at all. You probably know that there are penguins in Antarctica, and that the Civil War was fought in the 1860s, and that there are fish swimming deep in the ocean, and you also believe that Jesus was crucified two thousand years ago, but if I asked you "Were you there?" about each of those facts, you'd also have to answer "no" to each one. Does that mean they are all false? Of course not. You know those things because you have other kinds of evidence.
This strikes at the heart of the idiocy of Ham's answer. The response is facile and logically unsound because the obvious answer is “no” and Ham knows it. The problem is that neither was he. And if we can't rely on historical and prehistoric sources for our knowledge, why is the Bible any different? After all, the reason we have the Bible in the first place is because We weren't there. It is the record of God's interaction with humans through history, written down by many different people in many different literary styles. Without this record, we would have no knowledge of God. The only thing that makes it different from other historical sources is that we believe it to reflect the nature of God and how we should relate to Him. If we weren't there to see the 3.75 million year old rock created, then we weren't around to see the Bible written down either.

It is scripturally unsound because it places an odd dualism between the word of God and the observable universe. As far as Ham is concerned, any evidence that the earth is 4.5 billion years old is a Godless, atheist lie, no matter how convincing. Yet, if God is the creator of the universe, then He is reflected in his creation. And right now, it looks for all the world like his universe is around 13 billion years old. Every line of observable evidence points to this. It also looks for all the world like the life around us (including us) has evolved over for over three billion years. Every line of evidence points to this, as well. If we ignore this evidence, or distort it to fit a preconceived interpretation of the Bible, what does that say about our attitude toward God's creation? Are we not rejecting the evidence that He, Himself has put forth? To accept God's word and reject His creation is theologically unsound at best.

It also places Ham in a position of authority over all of the scientists who have ever lived that have studied the age of the earth and all of the geological, astronomical, palaeontological and radiological factors that go into determining its age and he is in a position of authority over all of the theologians who argue that a literal interpretation of the creation stories is theologically simplistic. In effect, he is not just saying that they are wrong, he is saying that by disagreeing with him, they are not walking with God. Pompous, a bit?

I hope that Emma is found by a Godly teacher who can also inform her that the science surrounding the age of the earth is sound and that most of the people who did the science that revealed this age were devout Christians. Asking “Were you there?” is just ignorant.

Friday, July 01, 2011

What Is Being Taught in Public Schools?

Digital Journal has an article about the struggle involved in teaching evolution in Dayton, Ohio. The story and accompanying video are quite alarming and show not just a complete misunderstanding of what evolution actually is but a fear associated with it.

The usual “acceptance of both God and evolution” argument is turned on its head by the teacher who argues that he doesn't “think that God has to have evolution to make a world.” Because of his extreme dislike for evolution, his biblical world view puts God in a box by denying Him the option of using evolution. In other words, evolution is so bad that God simply could not have possibly done it that way. As the writer of the article points out:
However, beyond the church and state controversy, the teaching of Creationism may have a grave impact on America's long-term competitiveness in science. According to a recent Huffington Post report, the World Economic Forum slapped the United States with a ranking of 48th among measured countries in the quality of mathematics and science education provided to students.
But the video segment ends with a big bang of its own:
“How can, like, an African American person evolve from a white person,” one student asked. “We're different skin.”
Even basic human variation involving melanin, latitude, sunshine and Vitamin K is a complete mystery to these students. That is astounding and sad and it makes one wonder about the competence of the teacher even in areas that don't involve evolution.

Interestingly, the narrator of the video does not come without some internal preconceptions as well. Remarking about the teaching style and beliefs of the teacher as it relates to his class, she states:

Unable to deny the word of God to his students or himself, Joe Wilke [sp?] walks a thin line between religion and science.

Why would he need to deny the word of God to teach evolution to his students? This is an a priori assumption that is a mirror image of the constraint in which Mr. Wilke places himself. Mr. Wilke is unable to deny a particular interpretation of the word of God, not the word of God, itself. This nuance is lost on the narrator.

It is this kind of biological education that leads to students coming out of high school thinking that evolution is religion, suggesting that the answers given by the Miss USA contestants might not be that unusual.