Monday, October 28, 2013

Jonathan Turley's Thoughts on COPE et al. VS. Kansas State Board of Education

A Jonathan Turley notes, and as I reported a month back, a lawsuit has been filed in Kansas by Citizens for Objective Public Education against the Kansas State Board of Education to keep them from implementing the next generation science standards.  The focus of the complaint is that the science standards use scientific naturalism as their base for understanding science.  From the COPE press release:
The Complaint claims that the Standards lead students to ask “ultimate religious questions” like “where do we come from?” Rather than objectively inform children about these questions in an age-appropriate manner, the F&S lead them “to answer the questions with only materialistic/atheistic answers.” This indoctrination is driven by the use of a concealed Orthodoxy (or doctrine) called methodological naturalism or scientific materialism. The Orthodoxy requires that explanations of the cause and nature of natural phenomena may only use natural, material or mechanistic causes, and must assume that teleological or design conceptions of nature are invalid.
Turley suggests that neither of these are valid. He writes:
The allegations are absurd on a number of levels. First, Plaintiffs have adopted a definition of religion which eliminates any requirement for belief in a supernatural entity. Second, Plaintiffs’ reasoning, if pursued to its logical conclusion, would virtually preclude the teaching of science in the public schools because their objections go to the basis of what we understand as the scientific method. Third, Plaintiffs rely upon the same flawed dualism that taints most fundamentalist arguments, the false assumption that acceptance of the findings of evolutionary biology are incompatible with religious belief in general and Christian belief in particular. The great paleontologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin, for example, who is quoted above, regarded evolution itself as part of the process of divine creation.
I think that what Turley is getting at in the first part is that religion is overstepping its bounds by demanding that explanations of scientific phenomena include teleological considerations. That is debatable. For the second one he is dead on. Science must proceed within the confines of scientific naturalism to explain things. That is not antithetical to religion. God has created a world that behaves within ordered bounds and is knowable. Science is how we know about it. As far as his third point is concerned, that is one of the greatest debates within Christianity right now: whether or not evolutionary biology can be subsumed within organized Christianity. Entities such as BioLogos think so. Those like AiG and ICR do not. Turley paints a rather broad brush here that is not broadly applicable.  His statement effectively does away with the controversy.  Teilhard de Chardin was a great thinker and a great palaeontologist but as anyone who has read The Jesuit and the Skull
knows, he battled with the church over issues of science his entire life. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Creation Museum To Get Allosaurus Skull

The AP is reporting that the Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Kentucky, has become the recipient of a privately donated, almost complete (but plastically deformed) Allosaurus skull.  Dylan Lovan writes:

The museum said in a written statement Friday that the Allosaurus probably stood about 10 feet tall and 30 feet long, and was a meat-eater. The skeleton, nicknamed "Ebenezer," includes a skull with 53 teeth and will go on display in an exhibit next year.

"For decades I've walked through many leading secular museums, like the Smithsonian in Washington, and have seen their impressive dinosaur skeletons, but they were used for evolution," said Ken Ham, co-founder of the Answers in Genesis ministry, which operates the museum. "Now we have one of that class for our museum."
Unfortunately, they have no idea what to do with it other than put it on display. They can't do a taxonomic study because that would involve evolutionary biology. They cannot try to place it in a geological context because that would involve mainstream geology. All they can really do is sit and look at it.

The story continues:
The well-preserved condition of the Allosaurus is evidence that it died during a worldwide flood as described in the Bible's Old Testament, Andrew Snelling, a geologist at the Creation Museum, said in the statement.

Snelling said the fossil's intact skeleton is proof of an extremely rapid burial, "which is a confirmation of the global catastrophe of a flood a few thousand years ago."
That is absurd. The fact that it was buried rapidly constitutes no evidence whatsoever that it was buried during a world-wide flood. There are plenty of examples of animals that become entombed and fossilized in contexts that didn't involve water.  This happens routinely in volcanic sediments.  The Ashfall deposits in Yellowstone and the Liaoning fossil beds in China are prime examples.    Ironically, it is the deposits at Liaoning that are so damaging to the flood model because they represent multiple volcanic eruptions over  a considerable depositional thickness, something that could not possibly have happened in a world-wide flood. 

The nature of the fossil find, itself, also presents problems for Ham and Snelling (or should, at any rate).  How could something like that fossilize in four and half thousand years?  Actual, carbon-dated archaeological remains that old aren't fossilized.  These, and so many other questions about the flood model are never addressed.

For now, all they can do is put it up and say "Gee, isn't that pretty."


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ohio Supreme Court to issue verdict soon in Freshwater case

Here is a story that continues to have legs.  The Kenyon Collegian is reporting that the John Freshwater case, the teacher that was accused of teaching creationism in the classroom and branding the arms of at least one student is going to finally be decided by the Ohio Supreme Court.  Eric Geller writes:
Freshwater’s dismissal brought widespread attention to a local controversy over religious education in public schools that began almost a decade ago. In interviews with the Collegian, Kenyon professors recalled following the story over the years as it evolved from a rejected intelligent design curriculum into allegations of physical violence against students.

Between 2002 and 2003, Freshwater petitioned the Board of Education to adopt a lesson plan based on materials from the Intelligent Design Network, an organization dedicated to promoting creationism. Freshwater’s proposal “was turned down by the District’s science curriculum committee, and then was turned down by the Board,” said Richard Hoppe, an affiliated scholar in biology at Kenyon, who has written extensively about Freshwater’s case for The Panda’s Thumb, a science education blog.

After the last set of allegations about Freshwater’s conduct surfaced in 2008, Hoppe attended 38 of the 40 public school board meetings leading up to the 2011 termination decision. He also taught an interdisciplinary studies course at Kenyon about the conflict between creationism and evolution.

“The materials he used in support of that proposal were classical intelligent design creationism materials,” Hoppe said. “It didn’t surprise me when some of the allegations later were that he taught using those kinds of materials.”

Professor of Biology Wade Powell said Freshwater “was teaching creation science — and the fashionable version of it at that time was called ‘intelligent design’ –– and it coincided with some battles that were being fought at the level of the state board of education about the standards for Ohio education.”
The most disturbing quote from the story is this, though:
Hoppe related an incident from the administrative hearings where a student witness, when asked what he had learned about science from Freshwater’s class, reportedly replied, “I learned that you can’t trust scientists. Scientists don’t know anything. You can’t trust science.”

“That was the most striking and disheartening thing,” Hoppe said. “You can’t trust science.”
Sometimes, when I read what comes out of state legislatures with people like Paul Broun in Georgia, I think that they get these ideas from teachers like Freshwater. Rotten science education breeds rotten science legislation.

Monday, October 21, 2013

More on "Noah" From the Hollywood Reporter

Here is another article on the upcoming "Noah" film by Darren Aronovsky.  Aside from apprehensions and criticisms, we find that the production budget has gone over $125 million and:
The use of visual effects has been so extensive that in some scenes, only an actor's face is in the final image. The film relies on effects to create the flood, of course, but in addition, Noah doesn't feature any real animals. Aronofsky said the creatures in the film are "slightly tweaked" versions of those that exist in nature, and there also are fantastical beings in the mix. The director recently told DGA Quarterly that Industrial Light & Magic had said it did the most complicated rendering in the company's history for the film -- "a nice badge of honor," he said.
Might not matter. ILM did the last Star Wars film and it was awful anyway.

Stormy Seas For Darren Aronovsky and "Noah"

Somehow I missed this.  Darren Aronovsky is directing a big-budget movie adaptation of Genesis 6-9 and is running into difficulties with the studio and his audiences.  Amanda Taylor of The Deseret News reports:
Remakes are difficult enough, but when you're creating a film based on a story from the Bible that happened eons ago, the challenges increase.

Director Darren Aronofsky is creating a blockbuster version of the epic tale of Noah and his ark. Of all the problems that have arisen, the latest seems to be a clash between Paramount and the director over audience reactions. The studio has asked Aranofsky to make some changes, but he doesn't want to budge on his vision, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

An anonymous source told THR, "Darren is not made for studio films. He's very dismissive. He doesn't care about (Paramount's) opinion."

The specifics about the film remain unclear, but reactions from Jewish, Christian and general audiences are reportedly "troubling" enough for Paramount to request some alterations.
Brian Godawa, a Hollywood screenwriter referred to in the story, is extraordinarily critical of the screenplay, and writes in his movie blog:
Though God has not spoken to men or angels for a long time, Noah is haunted by recurring dreams of a rainstorm and flood that he surmises is God’s judgment on man because as Noah says, “At our hand, all he created is dying.” The trees, the animals, and the environment. “If we change, if we work to save it, perhaps he will too [save us].” Or as grandfather Methuselah reiterates, “We have destroyed this world, so we ourselves will be destroyed. Justice.” Oh, and I almost forgot, they kill people too, but it’s not really as important. In another place, “We have murdered each other. We raped the world. The Creator has judged us.” The notion of human evil is more of an afterthought or symptom of the bigger environmental concern of the great tree hugger in the sky.
Although it might reasonably be assumed that these sort of actions on the part of the humans at the time would constitute "evil," that is clearly not the primary focus of God's anger in the Genesis story.Godawa writes as much in his article, which is smack on the money in many ways.  The film is supposed to be out March 28 of next year.  It cannot possibly be as bad as the John Voight, Mary Steenburgen, "Noah's Ark" miniseries that was put out by Robert Halmi, Sr. fourteen years ago. 

No Abominable Snowman After All?

Todd Wood points in the direction of this story about the Yeti, or abominable snowman.  Alan Boyle of NBC Science writes:
After a yearlong quest, a British geneticist says he has matched the DNA from hairs attributed to Himalayan Yetis, also known as "Abominable Snowmen," to a breed of Arctic bear that lived tens of thousands of years ago. Other researchers say that might be as good an explanation as any.

The claim is being made by Oxford University's Bryan Sykes, already well-known for his research on human ancestry. Sykes says his findings suggest that sightings of the legendary Yeti may actually represent observations of a previously unknown creature in the Himalayas — perhaps a hybrid of polar bears and brown bears.

Sykes told NBC News that his aim is to bring the Yeti out of the realm of myth and fantasy. "All my colleagues think I'm taking a risk in doing this, but I'm curious, and I am in a position to actually do something to answer the questions," he said.

Outside experts didn't reject Sykes' conclusion out of hand. Tom Gilbert, professor of paleogenomics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, told The Associated Press that Sykes' research provided a "reasonable explanation" for past Yeti sightings.
Based on the interview in the story, Sykes appears to believe that these animals exist and that the reason that they have not been found is that they are few and far between with enormous home ranges. This sounds a tad too convenient. Oddly, the new findings don't seem to have deflated his enthusiasm any.

I think that he is off the mark, anyway. As I wrote sometime back, as nearly as I can tell, the earliest stories of these huge creatures are from China and India.   I believe that their source is the extinct ape Gigantopithecus. This ape consisted of three species and the genus ranged very widely, from India to China and northern Vietnam. The largest species, G. blacki stood almost ten feet tall and is estimated to have weighed over 1100 pounds.   Put simply, if you found the fossilized remains, you would come away thinking there was a very, very large animal on the loose. Given the comparative lack of understanding of what a fossil was and how old these animals were when they were alive, it is quite conceivable, even believable that stories would have arisen about them.The earliest Gigantopithecus remains date to around 10 million years ago but G. bilaspurensis lived as recently as 100 k years ago, coeval with late archaic Homo sapiens.  When people came to the New World (from the Amur River area of China) through the Bering Strait, they brought the stories with them, which is why you get stories of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest. 

I have no evidence for this, only, as Mr. Spock would say, an hypothesis "which just happens to fit the facts." 

Been on Vacation

Sorry for the lack of posts.  I have been on vacation for the last week with the family down in Florida.  A nice time was had by all.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Meanwhile, Over In South Carolina...

The South Carolina State Board of Education is about ready to approve the new school standards and some are not happy.  Ron Barnett writes this for Greenville Online:
The state Board of Education gave initial approval to a new set of science standards Wednesday, although some board members tried to overturn the vote out of concern over whether the new guidelines leave room for students’ religious beliefs on the origin of life.

“What I’m asking is to teach both,” said board member Neil Willis of Boiling Springs.

After the board approved first reading of the state’s first revision of its science standards since 2005, Willis made a motion to reconsider the move. One other board member seconded the motion, but it failed on a voice vote.

The standards now will go to the state Education Oversight Committee and come back to the state Board of Education for final action early next year.
As is typical in these debates, however, a basic understanding of how science works is not self-evident in all of the participants:
“To remove the option to believe, I think, is a mistake,” Willis said.

Board member Raye O’Neal Boyd of Winnsboro agreed.

“Where is the opening for people who believe to stick by their beliefs, but at the same time show that they understand what you’re trying to teach them, but not necessarily adopting what you’re trying to teach them?” she asked.
This kind of thing suggests that people are equating scientific evidence  with sociological or cultural debates. It just ain't the same thing. Yes, there are obviously disagreements on how some evidence is explained as theory is being worked out but  if there is scientific evidence for "A" and there is no scientific evidence whatsoever for "B" then it doesn't matter how much you "believe" in "B", it should not be taught as science. Why don't people get this?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ball State University: The Backlash Continues

The Muncie Star Press is reporting that now the course purporting to teach atheism that was put in the spotlight by the Discovery Institute is under investigation.  Seth Slabaugh writes:
“You can be assured that the syllabi and curricula of all of the courses you singled out, as well as those of other courses offered by the Honors College and elsewhere at the university, are reviewed and updated on a regular basis,” BSU President Jo Ann Gora wrote in a letter on Monday to The Discovery Institute.

The institute is an anti-evolution, pro-creationism intelligent design think tank in Seattle that maintains supernatural forces shaped the universe.

“Some were undergoing this process before we received the inquiry regarding Honors 296, and others are being reviewed and updated at the present time,” the letter read. “Our intent is to ensure that their content and pedagogy reflect the highest academic standards.”
It appears that Gora is concerned about the allegations but in typical fashion, the Discovery Institute is approaching the controversy in a very ham-fisted way by threatening legal action. At issue seems to be the make-up of the commmittee to evaluate Eric Hedin's class and whether or not equity is being applied across the spectrum. The story continues:
[John] West said, “We gave BSU an opportunity to clarify what it is doing, and to show that it is applying its policies in a fair and legal manner. Because BSU has refused to clarify what it is doing or answer our questions, we will be forced to seek another remedy.”

Gora said she shared the institute’s concerns and demands with the university’s board of trustees before responding to the institute by letter this week.
It seems to me that this can only come out well for the Discovery Institute, despite the fact that I still think that they are providing a mixed message in their protest. The position of the university has always been that intelligent design is not accepted science and should not be taught as such. If the Discovery Institute were protesting the straight teaching of evolutionary theory in biology class, that would be one thing. They have historically argued in an anti-evolutionary vein so that would make sense.

But that is not what they are doing. They are protesting because a strictly theological perspective is being taught in another class and they want that scrutinized. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am thinking "ID is either science or religion. It cannot be both."