Saturday, June 29, 2013

Creation Museum in Financial Trouble?

The Libertarian Republic (and quite a few other outlets, it seems) is running a story about the financial struggles of the Creation Museum.  Austin Peterson writes:
The Creation Museum, a venue aimed at educating people from a biblical creationist viewpoint of history, is in financial trouble and struggling to make ends meet. With declining attendance, the museum has begun to veer into new ventures such as ziplines and sky bridge attractions in order to draw crowds. The biblically themed museum has also taken up a new exhibit dedicated to asking the question of whether dinosaurs were actually dragons. When asked what dragons and ziplines have to do with the museums mission, Mike Zovath the co-founder and vice-president claims that they are irrelevant.
Irrelevant? If they are irrelevant to the mission of the museum, then what are they doing there? An attempt to try to explain one of the prevailing mysteries in the Genesis account: the absence of dinosaurs, and it is deemed irrelevant?  What happened to the "behemoth" explanation, anyway?

One of the local news teams did a story on this development:

One of the byproducts of the struggles of the Creation Museum is that the Ark Encounter construction has been brought to a standstill. As Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu of the Jewish Press noted a few weeks back:
The Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg was opened six years ago and was supposed to be the source of funds for the Noah’s Ark project, but it got hit by the recession. Since then, visitors have been staying away in droves, denying the proposed new park the funds that were supposed to finance the project that will cost nearly $150 million. If the Noah’s Ark project is not completed by next May, it will forfeit tax incentives and leave a further gaping financial hole. The backers are a part of the same Bible thumping ministry that built the Creation Museum, which sticks to a literal view of the Creation. It is headed by Ken Ham, who is at war with Darwin and scientists who claim the world is older than almost 6,000 years.
You will recall that, a bit back, Ken Ham took great pains to portray the Ark Encounter as a separate endeavor from the Creation Museum. If the people that support the Creation Museum are the same people that support the Ark Encounter and they have fallen on hard times, however, then the ark will not be built.

On the other hand,  if it is built it will, apparently, feature a new ride modeled on the theme of the ten plagues of Egypt.  Won't that be fun!!  Riding along while locusts swirl about your head or having frogs drop out of the sky.  And what about when we get to the tenth plague?  Will there be corpses strewn around the landscape?  No, evidently not:
Mike Zovath, senior vice president and co-founder of the Ark Encounter, told The Christian Post on Monday. "The ride is not a thrill ride, it's a seven to 11 minute ride through the nation of Israel, where visitors will see the plagues portrayed."
Sort of like the "Its a Small World, After All," ride in Disney World but without the happy feel to it.

Ken Ham and Mike Zovath have done more to damage the reputation of Christianity than anyone else I can think of.  This is a travesty. One can only hope that this ersatz, Ellen White-inspired monument to flat-earth Christianity will, itself, become irrelevant. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Most Primitive Echinoderm Discovered

LiveScience has a story on the discovery of the oldest echinoderm ever discovered, some 520 million years old.  Tia Ghose writes:
The newfound species, Helicocystis moroccoensis, has "characteristics that place it as the most primitive echinoderm that has fivefold symmetry," said study co-author Andrew Smith, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, referring to the group of animals that includes starfish and sea urchins.
Pushing our understanding of how life developed even further.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Petition to Ban Creationism and ID

A petition has been submitted to that calls for the banning of young earth creationism and intelligent design in the public schools.  Here is the text of the petition:
Since Darwin's groundbreaking theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, scientists all around the world have found monumental amounts of evidence in favor of the theory, now treated as scientific fact by 99.9% of all scientists.

However, even after 150 years after the establishment of evolution, some schools across the US are "teaching the controversy," including Creationism and Intelligent Design. Both of these so-called "theories" have no basis in scientific fact, and have absolutely zero evidence pointing towards these conjectures. These types of loopholes in our education are partially to blame for our dangerously low student performances in math and science.

Therefore, we petition the Obama Administration to ban the teachings of these conjectures that contradict Evolution.
The petition has 24,345 signatures so far and needs 100,000 for the Obama administration to even look at it. The problem is that a account is required and, anymore these days, people are skittish about giving the government any more information than they have to. Even if it got the signatures and was contemplated, it is doubtful that such a ban would be approved.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Common Core and Evolution

There has been considerable ink thrown at the new Common Core science standards and not a few people have argued that it forces evolution down people's throats. For example, from a Fox News article on the teaching of the standards in Kansas comes this:
Though the new standards drew some criticism over their treatment of evolution, it wasn't anywhere as vocal or public as in the past. Together, Democrats and moderate Republicans control the board, and social conservatives wanting to inject skepticism of evolution into the standards were likely to have found little support.

The same political factors blunted criticism of the standards' proposed treatment of climate change as an important concept that should be part to lessons in all grades, rather than treated separately in upper-level high school classes.

One of the board's dissenters, Ken Willard, a conservative Hutchinson Republican, criticized the standards for what he saw as their lack of objectivity on both evolution and climate change. The other no vote came from board member John Bacon, a conservative Olathe Republican.
So do the new standards adequately cover the teaching of evolution?  Boy, do they.  Here is what the standards have to say just about common descent:

Students who demonstrate understanding can:
MS-LS4-1.Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on finding patterns of changes in the level of complexity of anatomical structures in organisms and the chronological order of fossil appearance in the rock layers.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the names of individual species or geological eras in the fossil record.]
MS-LS4-2.Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on explanations of the evolutionary relationships among organisms in terms of similarity or differences of the gross appearance of anatomical structures.]
MS-LS4-3.Analyze displays of pictorial data to compare patterns of similarities in the embryological development across multiple species to identify relationships not evident in the fully formed anatomy. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on inferring general patterns of relatedness among embryos of different organisms by comparing the macroscopic appearance of diagrams or pictures.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of comparisons is limited to gross appearance of anatomical structures in embryological development.]
MS-LS4-4.Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using simple probability statements and proportional reasoning to construct explanations.]
MS-LS4-6.Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using mathematical models, probability statements, and proportional reasoning to support explanations of trends in changes to populations over time.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include Hardy Weinberg calculations.]

And that is for grades six through eight.  There is no doubt that there is a considerable emphasis on hard science as it pertains to evolution.  For those opposed to the teaching of this subject, this will be a bitter pill to swallow.  This is the kind of stuff I teach in my Anthro 110 class.  It would be nice to see more of my students with the necessary background to understand what I am teaching. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Strange Things Afoot in Kentucky: The Creation Museum and Disappearing Comments

A few days ago I ran a story on the new zip lines at the Creation Museum that was somewhat disparaging.  Apparently, I missed one of the comments, made by an assistant manager of the Cincinnati Museum Center, which went like this:
This is not a museum, and this is further proof of that. Please stop referring to it as such. They are not an accredited museum by any association of museums. It is a theme park that misleads the public and it is a pockmark on our region. The fact that someone profits by misrepresenting their faith as science to children and families is shameful. When we wonder why America is falling behind in science education, it is because places like this are allowed to exist. I’m glad to see that their attendance is declining despite generous handouts from the state of Kentucky at the expense of their university funding.
Ken Ham responded to this comment directly on the Answers in Genesis site. He wrote, in part:
It’s interesting that an assistant manager at the Cincinnati Museum Center took the time to attack the Creation Museum. Now, we realize he’s not one of the top people at the museum center and has nothing to do with content, but Percy’s comments reflect on the entire museum center. While we at Answers in Genesis do not agree with the teaching of evolution and millions of years at the Cincinnati Museum Center (e.g., in the Museum of Natural History and Science), nevertheless we don’t discourage people from visiting there and we don’t publicly attack them in such a manner as Percy has done to the Creation Museum.
Aside from the contradiction present in the second sentence, Ham's statements ring hollow.  He has publicly attacked other organizations and individuals that promote an OEC model, and has been blackballed by Christian organizations because of it.  Ham also writes:
Perhaps Percy needs to look up the definition of museum. The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary states that a museum is “an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value; also: a place where objects are exhibited.”
Well, PZ Myers hopped all over this one:
So, is Disneyland a museum? A jewelry store? A church? Because you could claim that all of those fit his dictionary definition. A dictionary is a rough guide to common usage, not a definitive explanation of meaning.

Then Ham obliviously makes it worse. He cites other summaries of what constitutes a museum, in particular the American Alliance of Museums Accreditation, and notes that the Cincinnati Museum Center is accredited.

The Creation “Museum” is not. It’s not ever going to be accredited by any legitimate agency. Percy was exactly right: it’s a theme park, equivalent to a Halloween haunted house on a bloated budget, and it is little more than a colossal joke.
No response from Ham on that one yet. deserves a black eye for their handling of this, though, because the original comment that created the ruckus to begin with is no longer on the article page. It has been removed. It is legitimate free speech and should have remained.

To wrap things up, a story appeared yesterday indicating that there was now peace between the two "museums":
“Leaders representing both museums spoke on Sunday. The Creation Museum was assured that the assistant manager in question at the Cincinnati Museum Center is a front-line staff person and is not in a CMC leadership role, and his opinions were his alone and not CMC’s.”
Okay, fine. But if you are going to go through the trouble to make this statement, why remove the comment?  I left the following one on the newer story:
It is ironic that this story exists because of a comment that was made in the original story about the zip lines at the Creation Museum and yet, if you go to the original story, the comment that created the ruckus has been removed. That's free speech for ya.
Update: it seems that all of the comments on the original story have been removed except two that are of no value to anyone.  Not a good day for the First Amendment

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Oldest Primate Fossil Found

New Scientist has a story on the discovery of what may be the oldest definable primate, called Archicebus achilles.  Nicknamed "Archie" (naturally), the fossil dates from the Palaeocene, around 55 million years ago.  Michael Marshall, of the New Scientist writes:
According to its discoverers, Archie is a primitive tarsier – a group of primates closely related to monkeys, apes and humans. That would mean it is descended from the ancestor of all primates, but is not itself the ancestor.

That may not be the end of the story, though. Marc Godinot of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, is not entirely convinced that Archie's snout is short enough to prove it is a tarsier, as its discoverers claim. "Here we have a primate which is so primitive that it could be the primitive primate," says Godinot.
In the new, genetically informed taxonomy, the two main primate branches are prosimians on one branch, which include tarsiformes and lemuriformes and anthropoids on the other branch. The lemuriformes are further subdivided into the lemurs and lorises. The anthropoids divide into New World primates, which become New World monkeys and Old World primates, which divide into monkeys, apes and humans.So, is this a direct ancestor of our line?  Maybe, maybe not. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New X-Rays of Archaeopteryx Feathers

Science Daily is running a story on research done utilizing x-ray technology to gain more insight into the feather pattern and structure of Archaeopteryx.  They write:
The first complete chemical analysis of feathers from Archaeopteryx, a famous fossil linking dinosaurs and birds, reveals that the feathers of this early bird were patterned - light in colour, with a dark edge and tip to the feather ­­- rather than all black, as previously thought. The findings came from X-ray experiments undertaken by a team from the University of Manchester, working with colleagues at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The scientists were able to find chemical traces of the original 'dinobird' and dilute traces of plumage pigments in the 150 million-year-old fossil.
It is amazing that this is even possible, given the age of the specimens. Neat.

I Signed the Petition

I never thought I would see the day where I agreed with the Discovery Institute about anything but I went ahead and signed their petition in support of Eric Hedin's right to teach the course at Ball State.  I have absolutely no love for ID and fundamentally disagree with just about everything David Klinghoffer writes but I don't like bullies, and Jerry Coyne  and the Freedom from Religion PAC are acting like bullies.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Karl Giberson Weighs in On The Ball State Eric Hedin Case

Writing for HuffPo, Karl Giberson has suggested very politely that, with regard to the whole Eric Hedin Ball State controversy, Jerry Coyne go stick it where the sun don't shine.  He also cautions us about what academic freedom does and does not mean:
No evidence whatsoever supports Jerry Coyne's claim that Hedin is "proseletyzing for Jesus" in his Boundaries of Science class. Coyne is notorious for pretending not to understand the difference between a philosophically motivated theism and Christian fundamentalism and has waded into this controversy with his usual blinkered culture war mentality.

On the other hand, I can hardly agree with the intelligent design folk at the Discovery Institute that this is an academic freedom case. Academic freedom is a noble, if ambiguous, concept that can be invoked in support of many things but one of those is not the freedom to tell students things that are not true. If, as the syllabus suggests, Hedin's students are learning that the ideas of the intelligent design movement are the cutting edge of science and heralding a major revolution, there are grounds for concern. If the students leave Hedin's class believing that the scientific community is wrestling with the proposals that have come out of the intelligent design movement, then they have been misled and poorly served. Most practicing scientists understand that their disciplines have unanswered questions and "boundaries" of some sort. But virtually none of them are looking to an external "designer" to answer these questions.
I recently had a breakfast with a friend of mine who's set of twins are the age of my oldest son. They are all enrolled in a homeschooling co-op called Classical Conversations. Unfortunately, one of the books that has been assigned for this coming year is Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, a book of questionable value by Phillip Johnson.  My friend is a software designer/engineer and is, largely, unconcerned by the science/faith issues that cause me daily angst.  He was, nonetheless, quite surprised when I informed him that large sections of the Johnson book are not just different in opinion, they are wrong.  My friend was quite surprised to find that the theory of evolution is testable.  I outlined some basic instances in which this is the case.  If he has been reading any of the DI literature, I am not surprised that he thought that.  He also saw the wisdom of the question:  "how is it that all of the other major scientific disciplines have gotten their theoretical constructs correct and the evolutionary biologists have not?"  Even my pastor wonders about that.

In the end, Giberson concludes largely what I did, that this course is not what Coyne and other atheists call it and that Hedin has the right to teach it in the hopes of stimulating critical thinking in his students.  He does need to treat ID a bit more honestly, though. 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Creation Museum to Add Zip Lines??

As if to reinforce Internet Monk's observation that the Creation Museum in Petersburg Kentucky represents the Disney-ization of Christianity, we now find out that, in order to boost attendance, they are going to add zip lines.  Mark Hansel, of writes:
Mike Zovath, senior vice president of Answers in Genesis which owns and operates the museum, said the zip line course is designed to broaden the attraction’s appeal.

“We think it will draw a lot of young people that are looking for something exciting and fun to do,” Zovath said. “The longest is a 1,700-foot, double zip line that extends from an adjacent property, through the woods and across a ravine.”

The first stage of the zip line course is located next to the entrance to the Creation Museum and features a 650-foot dual racing zip line that extends across a lake.
What's the biblical message here?
Genesis 7:23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. 25 And because the Ark was long, being over 300 cubits in length, the Lord provided for Noah and his family zip lines for which to travel from one end of the Ark to the other.   26 This allowed them to manage the enormous tasks for which the Lord had commanded them.
Just incredible.  

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

More Bad News For Louisiana Science Education

Zack Kopplin has written a piece for Slate in which he relates recent legislative attempts to derail legitimate science education.  The situation is much worse than I thought:
Last month, for the third year in a row, Louisiana’s Senate Education Committee killed a bill to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. LSEA is stealth legislation that creates a loophole for creationism to be snuck into public school science classes. LSEA allows classroom use of supplemental creationist materials that “critique” evolution.

To get a sense of the supplemental materials approved under this law, you need look no further than its proponents. Suzanne Passman, who runs, testifies in support of LSEA every year. (You can see her testimony here and here.) She highlights LSEA on her website and suggests supplemental materials from the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis (source of the Creation Museum), and the Discovery Institute, a think tank for intelligent design creationism. She also offers to provide notes from creationist lectures she has attended; my favorite is “Jurassic Prank,” which discusses “dragons as real creatures” and shows that “people saw dinosaurs and not so long ago.”
This certainly sheds light on the legislature's unwillingness to strike the equal treatment law from the books, even though it has been ruled unconstitutional.  The flat earth religion crowd simply won't give up!  The coup de grace, though is the video in which the poor science teacher is trying to explain basic evolutionary principles using E. coli and the legislator asks if it turns into a human.

I once thought that Louisiana science education would have trouble moving out of the 19th century into the 20th. Now I wonder if it will be perpetually stuck in the 18th century.  How tragic for the students of this state to be stuck with adults who don't know any better. 

Monday, June 03, 2013

Ken Ham Wants to Show the Plausibility of the Worldwide Flood

Mary Wisniewski of Reuters has written a story on the PR message behind the new "Ark Encounter" Noah's Ark theme park (what Barry Lynn calls the "Ark-'n-Park") in Petersburg, Kentucky.  She writes:
What is "gopher wood"? How did Noah fit all those animals on the boat? And how did he stand the smell?

In an office park in Hebron, Kentucky, the designers of the proposed "Ark Encounter" theme park are trying to answer questions like these in order to build faith in the Bible's literal accuracy. The project has run into delays because of lack of financing, which could cost it millions in potential tax breaks. Despite the uncertainty, a recent Reuters preview of the project showed that plans for the ark are continuing.

"We're basically presenting what the Bible has to say and showing how plausible it was," said Patrick Marsh, design director for the park, which will feature a 500-foot-long wooden ark and other Old Testament attractions, including a Tower of Babel and a "Ten Plagues" ride. "This was a real piece of history - not just a story, not just a legend."

The project is currently in the design phase. Not enough private donations have come in to start construction, and building permits will not be ready until November, according to Ark Encounter co-founder and Senior Vice President Michael Zovath.
For those that think that the worldwide flood model is plausible, I would recommend Mark Isaak's Problems With a Global Flood, which pretty much destroys any possibility of that model being correct, and doesn't even cover everything that other writers have written.  I would also recommend Carol Hill's article on the flood.  She writes:
No geologic evidence whatsoever exists for a universal flood, flood geology, or the canopy theory. Modern geologists, hydrologists, paleontologists, and geophysicists know exactly how the different types of sedimentary rock form, how fossils form and what they represent, and how fast the continents are moving apart...
Wisniewski spends a bit of the column asking some of the hard questions that have bedeviled supporters of the global flood model for years such as how they used gopher wood when gopher wood doesn't show up until quite a ways up the geological column and how all of the animals got where they were supposed to go (and back).

Toward the end of the article, there is a section in which one of the designers, Paul Marsh, intimates that, while they are trying to promote a biblical message, the project is a for-profit endeavor and that secular amusement park models are being used to effect this.  Wisniewski writes:
In the exhibit depicting the wicked pre-Flood society that God wanted to destroy, for example, Marsh plans a pagan temple with pagan ceremonies done in a "Disneyesque" way.

"You want everyone to have fun and buy souvenirs and have a good time, but you also want to tell everybody how terrible everything (was)," Marsh said.
It sounds like the only thing missing is the "Ark Waterslide."

"Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight.  Cloneliness is next to Godliness, Right?"  -Steve Taylor

The Disney-ization of Christianity continues. Would it be wrong to pray that the private donations do not come in?