Saturday, December 27, 2014

Karl Giberson: 2014 Revenge of the Creationists

Karl Giberson has written a post for the Daily Beast called “Revenge of the Creationists,” in which he outlines all of the recent developments in the land of young-earth creationism, although he lumps in climate change as well, a related and often correlative movement.  Aside: I am currently working on a post involving the examination of young earth creationism as a natural theology-based heresy.  Anyway, back to Giberson.  Of course, leading the charge is Ken Ham.  Giberson writes:
America’s leading science denialist is Ken Ham, head of the Answers in Genesis organization that built the infamous $30 million Creation Museum in Kentucky. He also put up a billboard in Times Square to raise funds for an even more ambitious Noah’s Ark Theme Park. Ham’s wacky ideas went primetime in February when he debated Bill Nye. An estimated three million viewers watched Ham claim that the earth is 10,000 years old, the Big Bang never happened, and Darwinian evolution is a hoax. His greatest howler, however—and my top anti-science salvo of 2014—would have to be his wholesale dismissal of the entire scientific enterprise as an atheistic missionary effort: “Science has been hijacked by secularists,” he claimed, who seek to indoctrinate us with “the religion of naturalism.”
It is quite clear from his writings that Ham has absolutely no idea how science actually operates and, as further evidence of his bad judgment in this area, relies on writers who know little to nothing of the areas in which they write.  This creates a two-fer-one bad science punch, giving your average scientist (and even most reasonably educated people) yet another reason to think Christianity is stupid. 

I differ from Giberson in his analysis of his point number four:
Climate change is arguably the most serious form of science denial. Creationism may be wrong, but embracing it won’t wreck the planet.  The last few years have seen many howlers on climate change including Senator Inhofe’s claim that humans cannot possibly influence the climate because “God’s still up there." 
There are plenty of examples of people who have embraced the young earth model who believe that the climate will be just fine because all of the changes recorded in the geological record are only six thousand years old.  The corollary to this is that, because earth is only six thousand years old, God must be returning soon, so why should we care how we treat the environment?  I saw that argument made a few years back (cannot find the post at the moment).  Albert Mohler gets a spot, as well as the Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer, for this skewed analysis of the Cambrian explosion.  The only people missing are Kirk Cameron and Banana Ray Comfort.  Read the whole thing.  His tone is dismissive, but he is largely correct in his assessments.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bill Nye Thinks Creationism is "Raising A Generation Of Young People Who Can't Think"

Bill Nye has been interviewed on Newsmax TV, and, in his customary blunt way, argues that:
“Religion is one thing. People get tremendous comfort and community with their religions," Nye said. "But whatever you believe, whatever deity or higher power you might believe in, the Earth is not 6,000 years old.”
Here is the video:

Nye has a very peculiar view of religion. When he is asked why the whole debate is so vexing, he argues that it all boils down to a fear of death and that we just don't want to die. One of the central tenets of Christianity is that, after death, if you accept Jesus as your savior, you go to heaven. When death comes, despite the desire to live life to the fullest and to hang on to life (not inconsistent with Christianity, by the way), we accept it, because we know that heaven awaits.  That is faith.  His response almost comes from a complete ignorance of religious knowledge or history. 

His assessment of how creationists view scripture is largely correct, in that they want to use the Bible as a science textbook.  It is not clear that this debate extends into the realms of physics and chemistry, however.  Otherwise, you would not have so many scientists who have signed the "Dissent from Darwin" petition.  The catch is that, when you get into the realm of the earth sciences, the knowledge gaps become pronounced and arguments that promote the young earth fall short.  That is why there are so few earth scientists that have signed the document.  They make up less than 1% of practicing earth scientists.

The sad thing here is that he is right about the view of scripture that creationists have but does Christianity no favors.  In his view, religious sentiment is okay, as far as it goes.  How many people will he reach that agree with that?  This is one of the reasons that I fear that the leaders of the young earth movement will drive people away from God.  If it is just fairy tales, then why bother?

Monday, December 15, 2014

You Knew This Was Coming... is reporting that Ken Ham and AiG are fighting the Kentucky Tourism Board's decision to rescind the tax credits for the Ark Encounter.  Linda Blackford writes:
On Thursday, Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham accused the government of discriminating against a religious organization after state officials notified Answers in Genesis, the parent organization of the Ark Encounter park, that it could not receive state incentives because its hiring practices would discriminate against non-Christians.

”We have been working on this project with Kentucky for more than two years, so this just-received denial announcement is as disappointing as it is costly for our ministry without the expected rebate," Ham said. "Our construction has already begun at the Williamstown, Ky., site, and it must proceed. We are fully prepared to defend our fundamental rights in court if necessary, as this issue is of huge importance, not only to us, but to every religious organization.”
The legality of the hiring practices has gone around the houses and, after some thought, I think that it does not rest in Ham's favor. Ham fired back:
"The legal question here has already been answered unequivocally by the courts," said Mike Johnson, chief counsel of Freedom Guard. "No state is allowed to treat religious organizations less favorably than other organizations who seek to avail themselves of a facially neutral economic incentive program. Just because some state officials may not agree with the message of a Christian organization does not mean that organization and its members can be censored or treated as second-class citizens."
That is a smokescreen. Ham knows that the whole thing would never have even come up if it hadn't been for someone leaking the hiring practices.That is not the first time that Ham has obscured the real reasons for why some have questioned his actions.  This has the makings of a long drawn-out fight.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ark Encounter Loses Tax Incentives

Reuters is reporting that the AiG-fronted Ark Encounter project has lost the tax incentives it so desperately wanted for the construction of the life-sized (but not necessarily biblically-based) Noah's Ark.  Steve Bittenbender writes:
Kentucky has pulled potential tax credits for a proposed Noah's Ark-based theme park, telling the developer on Wednesday that the plans had evolved from a tourist attraction into a ministry seeking to advance religion.

State tourism officials had given preliminary approval for tax incentives of potentially more than $18 million over 10 years for the Ark Encounter park slated to open in 2016, but later warned the park's parent company, Answers in Genesis, that it could lose them if it hired only people who believed in the biblical flood.
Nobody has yet been hired but it is pretty clear that the tourism board became uncomfortable when the hiring dust-up occurred and finally just got cold feet. Mike Zovath says that the project will continue but chief counsel Mike Johnson was quoted as saying this “will be a huge financial loss to the organization.” I can only guess that this decision, which the Ark Encounter may fight in court, will have a large effect on the sale of the junk bonds to finance the undertaking. This is a huge win for opponents of the project.

Ironically, this comes on the heels of a huge ad campaign to promote the project, including billboards in Times Square. Here is a YouTube video of the 15-second ad clip: 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Response to The Ignorance of Blind Faith

A.J. Castellitto wrote a piece for the site American Clarion called The Ignorance of Blind Faith, in which he (she?) writes (in the best David Klinghoffer or Cornelius Hunter fashion) the following critique of “evolutionism”:
Ultimately, the overall problem with blind evolution both in process and acceptance is the non-skeptical adherence to a contrived, ideologically-based foundation. Especially since a sinless, godless form of evolution is arguably a building block of communism, apathy and moral decay.

For many, evolution is a cherished and heavily defended concept that resembles religious dogma. The main exception is that most of the radical aspects of evolution proposed by man preclude God. On the contrary, the consideration and inclusion of Intelligent Design theories provide healthy skepticism and rational thought beside the explanatory limits of unguided materialism.

True science should leave no lasting place for unsupported assumptions, unfounded speculations and insurmountable barriers. Not surprisingly, long ago evolution entered the realm of ‘scientism.’ This is why the funding continues to follow the agenda.
Here is how I responded on the site:
The concept of biological evolution is a lot like the concept of atomic energy. When it became possible to use atomic energy to develop nuclear power plants, with their attendant cheap power and radioactive waste, many people decried its use, claiming that it would poison the environment, lead to meltdowns that would jeopardize the health of millions and so on. When it became possible to create the nuclear-based weapons of mass destruction, people decried their existence and use as an existential threat and lobbied to get their use eradicated and to have them destroyed. These were no less than globally moral issues. Underneath it all, uncaring, disinterested, sat the reality of nuclear power. It existed. It was there. It wasn't going to go away.

Evolution is, objectively, one of the most well-documented, supported scientific theories in existence. It just is. I have studied biological evolution for over thirty years. Over 99% of the naturalists out there that actually study the data are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it explains the present and past biodiversity of the planet. You might debate how it is used by those who would perpetrate abuse of their fellow humans. You might debate how it has affected the spiritual walks of the people who encounter it. You might debate how it has affected the globally moral questions we ask. But that won't make biological evolution go away. As humans, we need to ask how to answer those questions in light of evolution. Does it change them? If so, how?
An open question.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bad News in Texas

Apparently, the Truth in Texas Textbooks push has won some major concessions to what kinds of education kids in Texas will get in the coming years.  And it happened in a not-so-above-board way.  Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer has this to report:
When they write the history books about the State Board of Education, last week’s drama over our new social studies textbooks probably won’t go down as a high point.

After punting on a preliminary vote Tuesday, the board approved the textbooks on Friday despite receiving hundreds of pages of revisions at the last minute, which many members hadn’t read. Those revisions came partly in response to 1,500 worried letters from the public that were still arriving just last week. Though the 10-5 vote split on party lines, members agreed that this year’s textbook approvals had been a mess.

But the process was a big win for at least one man, Roy White, and his fellow volunteer textbook watchdogs.
White’s year-old group Truth in Texas Textbooks made an impressive entrance into Texas’ ancient and ongoing fight over what children learn in school, with a recently-released 469-page review of this year’s social studies textbooks.
Unfortunately, the folks who are in charge of either voting up or down on the textbooks did not have the time to examine all of the complaints TTT made because at least the ones involving evolution and the age of the earth were completely bogus.This is not good because, often, where Texas goes, the rest of the nation goes.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Possible Mollusk Etching by Homo erectus

Science Magazine (and quite a few other outlets) is running a story involving the discovery of a 500, 000 year-old mollusk that shows some rudimentary carving.  Michael Balter writes:
In 2007, Stephen Munro got the shock of his life. The archaeology graduate student was studying mollusk shells gathered more than 100 years ago on the Indonesian island of Java, where an early human ancestor, Homo erectus, had roamed at least 1 million years ago. As he studied photographs of the shells, Munro spotted one apparently engraved with a pattern of zigzag lines. “I almost fell off my chair,” he says. That’s because the oldest known engravings date back 100,000 years and were made by modern humans—the only species thought to be capable of making abstract designs.
If this has been accurately interpreted, this suggests that Homo erectus was capable of considerably more cognition than is generally ascribed to this form. While there is evidence that Homo erectus controlled fire and, perhaps, had hafted tools, there has been, as of this point, no evidence of symbolic thought.

Some are not convinced:
Yet even if ancient humans engraved the shell, says Russell Ciochon, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the team has not shown that H. erectus did it. Ciochon, who has spent many years working at sites in Java, agrees with criticisms that the shells have been taken out of context, because Trinil was not an occupation site where early humans actually lived. Rather, Ciochon argues, the human fossils found there (which include a skullcap widely agreed to be H. erectus and a thigh bone that could belong to either H. erectus or H. sapiens, a matter of sharp debate) were washed into the site by a powerful flood, and nothing found with them—including the shells—can be assumed to have been associated with them originally.
Here is the shell.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Another Professor in Hot Water Over Evolution

Inside Higher Ed is posting a story about a professor at Georgia Southern University, a state school in Statesboro, Georgia.  Quoth Colleen Flaherty:
Lecturing for a week about how “evolution could not have happened.” Offering extra credit for students to watch the film “God’s Not Dead.” Showing religious bias in exam questions. Student reviews saying he’ll try to “convert you.”

Those charges, among others, make up a complaint filed recently by two First Amendment watchdog groups against T. Emerson McMullen, an associate professor of history at Georgia Southern University. The institution says it’s now investigating the professor for allegedly using his classroom at the public university to promote his anti-evolution Christian beliefs.
Apparently the Freedom From Religion Foundation and The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science have become involved in this and have pushed for an investigation into the charges.  It strikes me that if he is a science professor, these are serious charges.  If, on the other hand, he is a history professor, then it is incumbent on him to get the history correct.  If he does that, then the sole focus should be on whether or not he is using his classroom as a pulpit.  Despite his insistence otherwise, enough of the student comments indicate that, at least to some degree, he is. 

When I teach Anthropology 110: Human Origins, I am open to speaking with students about the apparent conflicts between evolution and Christianity, but I do not openly discuss them in class or promote EC.  I also use established science.  To do otherwise, I believe, would hurt the cause of Christianity.  Wisely, the Discovery Institute has left this one alone. 

One of my Readers Pointed Out...

That my dad was quite an accomplished scholar who lived a long and varied life.  It is difficult to overstate the importance he played in my life and how much fun it was to be his son.  He taught me many things and, later in life, especially after I had kids of my own, his advice was golden and his friendship was a great joy.  I will comment more on his passing and his role in my life when there is some distance and I can do it and still see the keyboard at the same time.  In the meantime, here is an obituary of him. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More Trouble in Texas

Io9 is reporting on a movement afoot to censor the textbooks in Texas of what it considers “Pro-Muslim” bias.
Science groups have been working to prevent the Texas State Board of Education from adopting controversial textbooks that misrepresent climate change. But now another organization has joined the fray, demanding extensive edits in science, geography and history textbooks to purge them of "pro-Muslim" bias.

Six months ago, a self-described grassroots group called Truth in Texas Textbooks (TTT) began mobilizing "volunteer scholars" to conduct a sentence-by-sentence assessment of 32 textbooks being used in the state's schools. They've just published a 469-page review of their research, declaring that they found a pattern of factual omissions motivated by a pernicious leftwing bias.

TTT, which has gotten high marks for its efforts from right wing sites like Breitbart, was, in fact, founded by members of Act! For America.
Act! is a group that is, according to the story, dedicated to defending against radical Islam.  Sure looks like they are just against good science.  One can see the shadow of Don McLeroy looming large.  For example, in the report they make the following notes:
What the textbook says: "Fossils, or preserved remains, found on Java suggest that human life existed there as early as 1.7 million years ago."
What TTT says: Other scientists do not believe the earth is millions of years old. Evolution is a theory not a fact. Students need to be given both theories, creation and evolution.
What the textbook says: "Fossil fuels are formed by buried plants and animals that have been dead for millions of years."
What TTT says: Many scientists do not believe the earth is millions of years old. A growing list of scientists consider young earth creationism (YEC) a fact and evolution as bunk.
In fact, the only scientists that think that the earth is not millions of years old are those that have no education or training in dealing with this record.  These are the same people that claim there are no transitional fossils and the present cannot be used to interpret the past.

But looking at the report, that is not what got me.  What got me was the complete lack of professionalism in listing the complaints, or at least the ones relating to evolution and the age of the earth.  For example, here is the section on the age of the earth:

• Many scientists do not believe the earth is millions of years old.
• Growing list of scientists who consider young earth creationism (YEC) a fact and evolution as bunk
• Young Earth Creationism

An examination of the first page on the growing list of scientists reveals a page with a truly horrible, low-resolution graphic that takes up so much space that one has to scroll way down to get beyond it.  Beyond this is a homegrown page of “biographies” of scientists who reject evolution. The links for the first three don't work. The rest are self-professed creationists and most of the links go directly to biographies on the site of Answers in Genesis, an organization not known for its academic rigor.  The reason for this is, of course, that the nice folks at TTT haven't read any actual science, only the twisted form coming out of AiG. The other section dealing with the age of the earth and evolution reads thus:
• Other scientists do not believe the earth is millions of years old. Evolution is a theory not a fact. Students need to be given both theories, creation and evolution.
• Evidence for a Young Earth (that’s not billions of years old) by Bob Dutko,
• Billions, Millions, or Thousands—Does it Matter? by Kenneth Ham,
The first link, the Bob Dutko page, puts you, after some hunting, to this page: Evidence for a Young Earth (that\\\\\\\'s not billions of years old) That is not a typo. That is what the title looks like.  It has information like this:
I remember one day back in 2004 I was on my way to a speaking engagement when I stopped into a Detroit area science store to browse, and I noticed a fossilized bone sitting on the shelf for sale. The sign said it was “50 million years old”, so I asked the clerk how she knew it was 50 million years old. She said “let me get the owner, he\\\'s a retired scientist”. The owner came out and I politely asked him how he knew the bone was 50 million years old. He said it had been dated to be that. When I reminded him that you can\\\'t radiometrically date organic material to an age in the millions, he said “well, yes, that\\\'s true. It\\\'s dated according to the age of the rocks it was found in”. I thought about bringing up the fact that evolutionary scientists also happen to date the rocks according to how old the fossils are that are found in them, but I didn\\\'t have time to get into that debate. (In the Top Ten Proofs for a Young Earth – 2 CD Set, it explains about the circular reasoning that is actually used to date rocks and fossils by using the so-called “dates” of each other to “date” each other).
Aside from the naked plug for his “2 CD set,” this is mostly nonsense and has been easily refuted. Dating is not circular, and there are plenty of arguments put forth by professional geologists that show that dating is very reliable.  That TTT would be using these sites as authoritative, scientific refutations of material in the textbooks is astounding.  It is difficult to understand why anyone would take these people seriously

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kurt Warner on Evolution: Is Ben Roethlisberger Evolved?

Inquistr recounts the episode of Kurt Warner waxing on the theory of evolution in his live NFL show.  First, I thought it was pretty funny.  I also think the reaction is way overblown.  Here is what he said:
“I’m not fully buying the evolutionary theory where one species transforms into another,” he said. “But if we’re talking about the idea that every species has the ability to adapt over time, well then I’m all in. As a matter of fact, I’ve actually seen this happen in a group I’ve been studying for years: NFL quarterbacks. And the subject of my latest evidence is that man right there: big Ben Ben Roethlisberger.”
It is obvious that Kurt Warner knows next to nothing about evolutionary theory and his mention of it in passing is silly but he is making a point about the mental transformation of Ben Roethlisberger, who is a much better quarterback than when he first entered the league.  He is following the same path that Brett Favre traveled.  Favre, if you will remember, in his early career, would throw any pass, no matter how ill-advised.  As he matured (evolved, if you will) he got better at passing and more discerning. 

All that needs to happen at this point is to politely point out to Kurt Warner that he got the basics of the theory of evolution wrong and move on.  This episode speaks to the larger issue of bad science education but is, in no way, on the level of the nonsense that Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort promote every chance they get.  This flame war is unnecessary. 

Friday, November 07, 2014

More Criminal Charges for Kent Hovind?

According to an article in Forbes, Kent Hovind, the former Dr. Dino and, at one point, a big player in young earth creationist circles, is in trouble with the law again.  Peter J. Reilly writes:
The latest criminal charge relates to the efforts that the IRS has been making to collect from Kent Hovind. Real property in Pensacola had been forfeited to the government. In 2012, there was an injunction against Creation Science Evangelism and its representative and agents from seeking to file liens on the forfeited property. Nonetheless, a lien was filed – a lis pendens.
Reilly thinks that this is a bogus filing.  It is somewhat complex but the idea is that Hovind has been filing suits against the government for what he feels to be a suppression of evidence against him and this lien was just one more such suit.  The government is, now, turning around and charging him with criminal contempt.  Reilly suggests that this is a poor use of government funds.  I am inclined to agree.

Hat Tip to Panda's Thumb.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

"At This Point, It looks Like They Just Dropped down Out of the Sky."

That is what a prominent palaeontologist once said about ichthyosaurs a few years back because their appearance in the fossil record gave little indication of where they had come from.  That has changed.  The Washington Post, in provocative fashion, has an article titled: Newly discovered fossil could prove a problem for creationists. Rachel Feltman writes
Researchers report that they've found the missing link between an ancient aquatic predator and its ancestors on land. Ichthyosaurs, the dolphin-like reptiles that lived in the sea during the time of the dinosaurs, evolved from terrestrial creatures that made their way back into the water over time.

But the fossil record for the lineage has been spotty, without a clear link between land-based reptiles and the aquatic ichthyosaurs scientists know came after. Now, researchers report in Nature that they've found that link — an amphibious ancestor of the swimming ichthyosaurs named  Cartorhynchus lenticarpus.
How is this a problem for creationists?
"Many creationists have tried to portray ichthyosaurs as being contrary to evolution," said lead author Ryosuke Motani, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California Davis. "We knew based on their bone structure that they were reptiles, and that their ancestors lived on land at some time, but they were fully adapted to life in the water. So creationists would say, well, they couldn't have evolved from those reptiles, because where's the link?"
Now the link has been found.

According to the researchers, this animal had larger bones and flippers, flexible wrists and a shorter snout, all which would have been a decided disadvantage in deep ocean water but are much more in keeping with the morphology of coastal animals. Of this transition, Feltman writes:
When other vertebrates have evolved from land to sea living, they've gone through stages where they're amphibious and heavy. Their thick bones probably allowed them to fight the power of strong coastal waves and stay grounded in shallow waters. Sure enough, this new fossil has much thicker bones than previously examined ichthyosaurs.
Another piece of the puzzle and one less argument for young-earth creationists to use.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Meanwhile, In Scotland...

On November 11, a hearing will take place in Glasgow to air a petition that will call for official guidelines that would bar teaching of creationism and ID in Scottish schools.  A local organization, C4ID (Centre for Intelligent Design) has responded to this petition.  The Scotland Herald writes:
The petition, to be heard on November 11, calls for official guidance to be issued in schools barring the presentation of creationist and Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the science of evolution.

It has been backed by three Nobel-winning British scientists - Sir Harold Kroto, Sir Richard Roberts and Sir John Sulston.

Alastair Noble, director of C4ID, said his organisation believed the petition was based on imposing a "particular world view".

He ­acknowledged the idea of teaching "for and against" evolution would be controversial, but claimed it was consistent with scientific method.

But Paul Braterman, an honorary senior research fellow in chemistry at Glasgow University and committee member of the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), a campaign to keep religion out of science classes, said C4ID was using "tired" arguments that were "merely a stalking horse for creationism".

Spencer Fildes, chairman of the Scottish Secular Society, said its concerns were about protecting science. "If you are in religious and moral education, then by all means you can philosophise about this," he said. "Students and children are welcome to discuss it, as long as it is contextual.

"Unfortunately, this does not happen, hence the reason why we have raised the petition."
This is more the David Klinghoffer arm of the ID argument, than the Stephen Meyer arm—and it tends not to carry as much traction because it specifically relies on the morality argument, which carries no weight in the science classroom.  This argument seems to regard science as some sort of "truth," to be compared to religious truth and it is nothing of the sort. 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

HuffPo: Anti-Evolution Republicans

HuffPo has a post on notable Republicans that are notably anti-evolution, some of which i have profiled.  One such induhvidual is Paul Broun, of Georgia.  Of Broun, Paige Lavender writes:
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) is one of the most vocal evolution critics in Congress. In October 2012, Broun -- a doctor who serves as chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's subcommittee on oversight -- said the teachings of evolution, embryology and the big-bang theory are based on "lies straight from the pit of hell."
...Broun won't be returning to Congress in 2015, but his likely replacement -- Republican radio host Jody Hice -- has similarly pro-creationist views. In July 2014, Hice said mass shootings like those at the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater; Virginia Tech; and Columbine High take place because "we promote the concept of evolution" in American schools.
She continues:
Aaron Miller, who ran in the 2014 GOP primary for Congress in Minnesota, said a big reason he ran for Congress was to end classroom instruction on evolution. Miller lost that primary, despite nabbing the endorsement of former state Rep. Allen Quist (R), who once said he believes dinosaurs coexisted with man.
There are anti-evolution democrats, to be sure.  HuffPo could not be be bothered to find them, of course.  Nonetheless, these are high-profile republicans who drag the party down.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Pope Has Spoken (and He Sounds Like the Last Couple of Popes)

Pope Francis has, according to CNN, taken a stand against creationism. Heidi Schlumpf writes:
Liberal American Catholics greet almost anything uttered by Pope Francis with glee, but his latest pronouncement has them scratching their heads. Headlines proclaiming "Pope says evolution, Big Bang are real" could have been written in 1950.

That's when Pope Pius XII announced that Catholic doctrine and evolution could be compatible, an attitude endorsed--and even expanded upon--by Pope John Paul II, who said evolution is "more than a hypothesis" and "effectively proven fact." Pope Francis is just following in those footsteps.

"God is not a divine being or a magician, but the creator who brought everything to life," the Pope said Monday in an address to a gathering on "Evolving Concepts of Nature," hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. "Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of things that evolve."
As Schlumpf notes, Benedict appeared to waffle some on evolution initially before concluding that, yes, it was a good, sound theory.  Not so with Francis.  While this is, not necessarily new news, that Francis is getting the position out into the open is a good thing and a needed counter to organizations like AiG.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fred Clark on Croco-Ducks, Kirk Cameron, Creationism and Spinosaurus

Fred Clark, over at Patheos has an interesting post in which he notes the discovery of Spinosaurus, a dinosaur from Hell that was 50 feet long with six-foot spines, and has been called a "half duck, half crocodile."  This has produced a good deal of amusement on the part of a number of commentators who remember the idiotic statement on Fox News made by Kirk Cameron (under the tutelage of Banana Ray) that evolution could not possibly be true because he had never seen a Crocoduck.  Now we actually have one and the world is waiting for his response. We might be waiting a long time.  Clark has this to say:
What’s really amazing about this video isn’t Cameron’s unintentional Nostradamus-like evolution prediction skills, it’s what’s going to happen next.


Despite the damning evidence, we won’t see any creationist anywhere budge for their deeply entrenched position of denial.

You see, to any logical person not bound blindly to ideology it is clear that this is yet one more nail in the coffin of creationism. Probably, the most ironic nail of all.

But I’m betting we won’t hear a peep out of Cameron’s camp.


Because arrogance and denial are the foundation of fundamentalism.

You see, they had no problem arrogantly denouncing evolution in their ridiculous video because that’s what fundamentalism is built upon – the arrogance of ignorance.
The reason for this is something that I have danced around for some time but never come right out and accused the leaders of modern day creationism of: straight-up dishonesty. He continues:
Poor Kirk Cameron is a willing, but not an able, spokesman for “scientific creationism.” What he’s shooting for here is the young-Earth creationists’ claim that the fossil record is full of missing links — that transitional fossils have never been found.

The professional scientific creationists — the folks who are well-versed in this stuff and make their living promoting it — know that’s a lie. And because they know it to be a lie, they understand how the lie is meant to work, and thus they’re able to tell that lie much better than Cameron. He believes it, but he clearly has no idea what it is he believes. So he goes for the “croco-duck,” which demonstrates about the same level of understanding as the ever-popular, “Oh yeah? Then why are there still monkeys? Hah!” argument.
If you repeat a lie long enough, more people will believe it. But that does not make it any less of a lie.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Freshwater Out of Appeals

The Columbus Dispatch reports that former Mt. Vernon school teacher John Freshwater was, correctly, dismissed from his job:
A silent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday puts the weight of the nation’s highest court behind what Ohio’s high court already found: that former Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater was rightly fired in 2008 for refusing a direct order to remove religious materials from his science classroom.

This puts a merciful end to Freshwater’s slog through an administrative appeal that dragged out over two years and cost the district’s taxpayers nearly $1 million, followed by an unsuccessful appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court and on to the nation’s high court.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tyler Francke: The top 10 signs that you don’t understand evolution at all

I hate it when I discover a resource that I should have known about all along.  I just ran across Tyler Francke's blog God of Evolution.  He has written a post titled: The top 10 signs that you don’t understand evolution at all. His opening point is one that I made in the last post about Ken Ham and have reiterated numerous times on this blog:
1. You think “it hasn’t been observed” is a good argument against it.
Popularized most recently by Ray Comfort’s mind-bendingly bad, gospel-poisoning movie, “Evolution vs. God,” this claim generally betrays not only a misunderstanding of evolution, but science in general. If the idea (that “scientific evidence must be both observable and repeatable”) were carried to its logical conclusion, it would cripple not only the study of evolution, but every line of historical inquiry. We would, in fact, be prohibited from exploring most matters that cannot be brought inside or recreated within a laboratory, whether they be large (the composition and origin of stars, for example) or small (like the forensic recreation of a crime scene).
Making viable conclusions based on inferences from the available evidence is not at all unscientific, and it is this reasoning that has compelled us toward the theory of evolution. Interestingly, evolution is observable and repeatable in the sense that scientists can make and test predictions of the theory, and this is exactly what they have been doing for more than a century.
Throughout the rest of the post, he hits on every single one of the myths of evolution , many of which I have heard uttered by some of my friends (well, all except the Pokemon one). It is a litany of anti-evolution positions held by most of the general public with concise rebuttals.

And anybody who refers to Ray Comfort as “Banana Ray” gets my vote.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ken Ham and Cognitive Dissonance

Elizabeth Yale, writing for the Danforth Center of Religion and Politics, has an interesting article on Ken Ham and, generally, a short history (and indictment) of young earth creationism.  She writes:
Assenting to this vision of history requires a series of strategic denials. First and foremost for Ham and his organization is the denial that science, and scientists, can say anything at all about history. “Historical science” cannot be proved: no matter what geologists, biologists, and paleontologists might infer about the past by applying their knowledge of natural processes to the present conditions of the rocks, living organisms, and fossils, they were not physically present to witness the events their sciences explain. History is a thing written in a sacred book.
It is difficult to defend this position in any sort of logical fashion, because it not only applies to what happened thousands of years ago but, potentially to any past event. If Ken Ham goes walking in the forest one day and stumbles on a large section that is burned, based on his definition of science, there is no way to know what happened, even if he has an understanding of forest fires and how they work.This is patently absurd, yet, for all practical intents and purposes, this is how Ken Ham thinks. 

Read the whole thing.

Ark Encounter Hiring Update

Yahoo News is running a story that the state of Kentucky has contacted the organizers of the Ark Encounter in connexion with its CAD designer position.  Chief arkhead Mike Zovath has responded.  Steve Bittenbender writes:
The developer of a Noah's Ark-based theme park in Kentucky said on Wednesday he would fight for his religious rights after state officials warned he could lose millions in potential tax credits if he hires only people who believe in the biblical flood.

Ark Encounter, which is slated to open in 2016 in Williamston, Kentucky, is not hiring anyone yet, but its parent company Answers in Genesis asks employees to sign a faith statement including a belief in creationism and the flood.
It still isn't clear what the job ad actually says. The one I saw did not have a requirement of a statement of faith. This seems to be a case of the state preventing any possible future violations of the law. Absolutely none of this would be an issue, however, if Ham and co. had actually managed to get all of the funding privately. The fact that they are now issuing junk bonds to achieve the necessary funding is an indication that it will be a struggle to get it finished.

Hat tip to Panda's Thumb.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

PBS Antiques Roadshow on Scopes Trial

The Antiques Road Show on PBS has a short historical sketch on the Scopes trial, in Dayton, Tennessee.  I found that if you “Play All”, the images and text whiz past too quickly but maybe that is a browser setting.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

New Film: A Matter of Faith

Wendy Byerly Wood, of the Elkin Tribune, writes:
The story is about a Christian teenager who goes off to college for her freshman year and begins to be influenced by her popular Biology professor who teaches that evolution is the answer to the origins of life. When the teen’s father senses something changing with his daughter, he begins to examine the situation and what he discovers catches him completely off guard. Now very concerned about his daughter drifting away from her Christian faith, he tries to do something about it!

The film features Jordan Trovillion (“Jack Reacher”), Jay Pickett (“General Hospital”), three-time Emmy nominee Harry Anderson (“Night Court,” “Dave’s World”) and Clarence Gilyard (“Matlock,” “Walker Texas Ranger”) in the lead roles.

“We wanted to make a film that brought the issue of creation vs. evolution to the forefront,” Director Rich Christiano said. “A film that would be fair to both sides and allow the viewer to make a choice.
One problem: later in the review, we find this:
Many Christian leaders who have previewed the film are praising its biblical message. Both Ray Comfort and Ken Ham describe “A Matter of Faith” as a must-see.

“A great movie,” Comfort said. “Heartwarming, educational, God-honoring, and timely.”

“We don’t endorse very many movies, not even many of those that are supposedly Christian based,” Ham explained, “but we are fully behind ‘A Matter of Faith.’”
If Ken Ham is fully behind this film, it will not treat the subject of evolution fairly. Not even close.   Both he and Alex Comfort are strident anti-evolutionists and would never give their support to a movie unless it promoted a very one-sided, cardboard treatment of the science.  of additional note, all of the sites that are giving the film thumbs-up also link to films like Evolution's Achilles Heel, by Creation Ministries International.  I watched the trailer for this film and, even in watching this, could spot elementary errors.  Furthermore,  it made absolutely ridiculous assumptions, such as that evolutionists have never examined their own positions. 

This does not bode well. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thoughts On Jared Diamond, Creationism and Lies

Jared Diamond, professor of geography at UCLA, was interviewed for TES Magazine.  Adi Bloom writes:
Jared Diamond , author of The Third Chimpanzee, which discusses evolution and human development, said people often assumed that advocates of creationism were ignorant. “One might be tempted to think that creationism is based on lack of exposure to science,” he told TES, during an interview to mark a new edition of the book for school-age children.

“It’s not that the creationists are ignorant of the arguments of evolution,” he said. “They’re aware of the evidence. They simply don’t believe it.”

For science teachers, therefore, it is not enough to counter the arguments of creationists – whether students or fellow teachers – with scientific fact. “Creationists have very slick one-liners, and you need to know the answers to these,” Professor Diamond said. “You have to know not only the science, but also the errors and the cheap one-liners of creationists.”
I am not sure that I agree with this section. Having read (and commented on) David Menton's diatribe against human evolution it was pretty clear that he thought he knew the evidence but really did not. His mistakes are elementary, both in examining the fossil record and in describing hominin anatomy.  In some instances, particularly in describing the fossil record, it was hard to tell if he was being ignorant or dishonest.

Duane Gish's book Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No! is rife with paragraphs in which he mis-characterizes the evidence for evolution particularly because he didn't know it as well as he thought he did (Gish passed away in March of last year).

In fact, it is usually not hard to blow these articles and books out of the water simply because the authors get basic facts wrong time after time.

What I find more of a problem rather than the slick one-liners is the persistent use of the "repeat a lie often enough and people will start to believe it" tactic.  One example of this is when ID supporters characterize the fossil record when they argue that lineages appear fully formed, when in fact, they do not.  Witness Stephen Meyer's recent book on the Cambrian explosion, in which he claims that this period is too short for evolution to have occurred and that the biotic proliferation is best explained by intelligent design processes.  As Don Prothero notes, the only reason Meyer comes to this conclusion is that he completely mischaracterizes the fossil record of the Cambrian.  Prothero writes:
Even more damning, Meyer completely ignores the existence of the first two stages of the Cambrian (nowhere are they even mentioned in the book, or the index) and talks about the Atdabanian stage as if it were the entire Cambrian all by itself. His misleading figures (e.g., Fig. 2.5, 2.6, 3.8) imply that there were no modern phyla in existence until the trilobites diversified in the Atdabanian. Sorry, but that's a flat out lie.
This notion that lineages appear fully formed can be found in any home school science book and hundreds of ID books as well. It is difficult to have any respect for people that repeat this falsehood when they ought to know better. Furthermore, in Meyer's case, he had every opportunity to avail himself of the evidence of the Cambrian expansion and chose to mischaracterize it, anyway.

Other examples of this meme are "evolution is untestable" and "there are no transitional fossils in the geological record,"  both are which are demonstrable falsehoods and yet are pervasive in the creationist and ID literature.  Even if you repeat a lie time and time again, it is still a lie, and it is not unChristian to point it out as such.

Yay, The Fiscal Year is Almost Over!!!

Here at Oak Ridge National Lab, the calendar, like most federal agencies, runs from October of one year to the end of September of the next and I have been absolutely crazy busy, to the point of taking work home with me, so there have been few posts.  Everyone around here will turn into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight on September 30 and we will all get breathers.  I will get back to it as soon as possible.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Ohio: Creationism Shut Out, But Not ID?

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that House Bill 597, which would repeal the Common Core in Ohio, has been stripped of language that would allow for the teaching of creationism in Ohio public schools.  Jim Siegel writes:
The original bill set specifications for science standards that said they must not prohibit “political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.” A number of experts viewed that as a way to bring intelligent design or creationism into science lessons.

But under changes adopted yesterday, House Bill 597 now says that students would “review, in an objective manner, the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories in the standards.”
I am not sure that this is a whole lot better since it still includes the “strengths and weakness” language which, as interpreted by the Intelligent Design crowd, has never been successfully applied to evolutionary theory. This kind of language simply allows people that may not know the intricacies of the theory to teach it in a bad way, even if they are trying to do it objectively.

In Hindsight...

I have rethought Ken Ham's argument that AU is employing a double standard by attacking the hiring practices of Answers in Genesis while using practices biased in the other direction, and discovered that I was wrong in my thinking.  It took a column by David Whitlock of the Springfield Sun to penetrate:

In this column, Whitlock accusing both AU and Ken Ham (who's name he misspells throughout) of putting up straw men in their arguments about the hiring practices of those who will work at the Ark Encounter.  He is correct in that Ark Encounter has not written their hiring practices and yet, somehow, there is a good bit of internet blather about how discriminatory those practices are.  But he then points out:
But it is here that Hamm misses the point, and in doing so, sets up a Straw Man himself, for Americans United’s letter to the Governor was not to object to either Answers in Genesis’ or Ark Encounter’s statements of faith. It is the concern that a religious organization will receive tax incentives while maintaining religious discriminatory hiring policies. (Ark Encounter would be eligible for sales tax rebates of up to $18.25 million over 10 years.)

Let’s be clear here: This is not an “atheist vs. believer,” or a “secularist vs. religious” issue, though Hamm may want you to believe otherwise.

Americans United is not the only organization that objects to tax incentives for organizations that promote religion.
Ham argues that AU is being disingenuous because there is no way that AU would never hire an evangelical Christian for their organization and that Barry Lynn knows this.  Here is why that analogy doesn't hold.  He is correct that AU would never hire someone who is an evangelical Christian and believes that there is no constitutional separation of church and state.  But they would hire someone who is an evangelical Christian and yet believes that there is a constitutional separation.  The argument doesn't (at least at this level) hinge on beliefs.  It hinges on an understanding of constitutional law.  The problem is that Ham thinks the two are the same thing and for some reason, so did I. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Science & Human Origins Conference in Idaho on September 20

According to the new Discovery Institute Website, there is a Science & Human Origins day-long conference at the Ray and Joan Kroc Center, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (population 45k).  It is being billed as a “Spokane area” event, since it is only thirty minutes from there. 

This conference, which costs $25-$35 dollars, will feature some of the usual suspects, John West, Casey Luskin, Ann Gauger and Richard Sternberg.  Luskin and Gauger were partly responsible for the book of the same name, which I began to read in the hopes that I would review it.  The problem is that it made my blood pressure skyrocket and I became a hateful person around the house so I had to give it up.  I will get back to it at some point, soon, I hope.  Anyway, if you are anywhere around that part of Idaho, it would be instructive to see how that branch of ID thinks.  

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

What Hiring Practices?, the website of the Lexington Herald Leader, has an editorial chastising the state of Kentucky for giving out state aid to the in-progress Ark Encounter theme park.  Referencing the new project activity, they write:
It's back now with a scaled-back version and has received preliminary approval for $18.25 million in tax incentives, or 25 percent of the total project cost, from the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority.

That's in addition to the 75 percent break in property taxes over 30 years that the city of Williamstown has awarded the project, the $11 million interchange upgrade the state has agreed to at the KY-36 Williamstown exit off I-75, and the $200,000 the Grant County Industrial Development Authority gave to keep the project there, along with 100 acres of reduced-price land.

Please, this has got to stop, as it should when the Tourism Development Finance Authority meets to consider final approval.

There have always been serious questions about whether granting tax incentives to a religious theme park violates the principle of separation of church and state, as Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo has asserted.

But even that question is overshadowed by the recent news that the organization which gave rise to the project, Answers in Genesis, requires job applicants to profess that homosexuality is a sin, the Earth is 6,000 years old and the Bible is literally true.
This is the second “letter” that I have seen excoriating the project developers for their hiring practices in absence of any hard information on what those hiring practices are. The first one came from AU. There is no link to such an article. Patheos also got on the band wagon and, in absence of any hiring practice documents, wrote:
However, it does not matter that the Ark Encounter has not written its hiring policies yet because that does not excuse discrimination.
What discrimination? Without written hiring practices how can there be discrimination?  Perhaps even more damning is that the link in Patheos is to an outdated copy of the job announcement which makes no mention of any religious requirements whatever.

But, even if there were hiring practices, Ham makes an even better point:
It is true that AiG, just as AU, is a 501c3 organization that receives tax deductible donations. And AiG, like AU, has the freedom because of the Statement of Faith of the organization to require employees to adhere to that statement. I’m sure AU wouldn’t want to employ a biblical creationist like me as its head, and AiG wouldn’t employ an atheist!
He is likely correct and I suspect that the kerfuffle over the hiring practices is simply a smokescreen in a larger attempt to forestall the building of the ark.  If Ham is correct, and they are the same sorts of organizations, then AU needs to address the perceived issue.  And if is going to complain about these hiring practices, it needs to actually produce them.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Nobel Prize Winners: Ban Creationism in Scottish Schools

The Scotland Herald is carrying a story in which three Nobel Prize winners are urging the Scottish Government to ban the teaching of Creationism in public schools.  Judith Duffy writes:
Sir Harold Kroto, Sir Richard Roberts and Sir John Sulston have signed a petition lodged at the Scottish Parliament calling for guidance to be introduced for teachers.

The Scottish Secular Society wants a ban in publicly funded Scottish schools of the "presentation of separate creation and Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent and deep time".

The move comes after an incident last year when it emerged that members of a US pro-creationist religious sect, the West Mains Church of Christ, had been working as classroom assistants for eight years at Kirktonholme Primary in East Kilbride. Children were given books intended to debunk evolution.
Although there is no mention of this in the story, the timing is such that some of these scientists may have seen the recent dust-up in England about the radical Islamic creationist influence in schools and decided to act.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Oldest Complex Fossil Found in Newfoundland

CNN is reporting that a 560 million year-old fossil with muscular tissue has been found in Newfoundland.  I can't embed the video so here is the link.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

AU Opposes Tax Incentives for Ark Encounter

The organization Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has written a letter to Steve Beshear, the governor of Kentucky, urging him to deny the tax incentives for the Ark Encounter.  WLKY has this:
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said in a letter to Gov. Steve Beshear that the website of Answers in Genesis requires that job applicants agree with its Christian "Statement of Faith."

Americans United officials said an applicant must profess that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality and incest. The group said the policy amounts to discrimination.

The coordinator of the theme park project, Mike Zovath, said hiring policies have not been written.
Not sure what document AU got a hold of, since Zovath essentially is saying that such a document doesn't exist.  It is likely anecdotal for now.  Here is the AU's letter to governor Beshear.

General Distrust for Common Core

Here is an article on the views of the public in general about the Common Core.  The problems identified are a microcosm of federalism as a whole:
“The rush to implement the standards has also led to inadequate support for teachers, inadequate communication with our public and a major pushback from teachers who have connected Common Core with standardized testing,” said Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s state education commissioner, according to U.S. News & World Report. Standardized testing is often criticized for limiting teachers’ classroom flexibility and forcing them to teach to a test that might not benefit students in every state — or even every area of every state.
Also, if the stories are true (and what I have seen corroborates at least some of them) the tests are badly designed, incoherent and rife with errors. Not good.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Opposition to Common Core: A New Trojan Horse?

Despite my general dislike for Common Core and the persistent overreach by the federal government, it seems clear that some groups are using their opposition to the initiative to get ID and creationism in the back door.  Witness the clarification to a proposed bill that would repeal the Common Core in Ohio.  Patrick O'Donnell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes this:
State Rep. Andy Thompson, a Marietta Republican, told The Plain Dealer today that language requiring 80 percent of literature in English classes to be from American or British authors published before 1970 will be removed from HB 597.

Thompson also clarified some unclear language in the bill about science standards that would "prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another." Thompson said that clause prevents teachers and schools from only presenting one side of a political and scientific debate -- global warming, for example -- without also presenting the other side.
And he said the bill gives districts and teachers the freedom to teach religious interpretations of scientific issues as they deem best. That allows "intelligent design" and creationism to be taught alongside evolution, as well as varying views on the age of the earth and whether dinosaurs and people existed at the same time.
Might as well paint a target on your chest.  Opposition to the Common Core has valid concerns and it would be a shame to see the movement hijacked by the the young earth/ID crowd. That would strip it of its credibility as far as the scientific community is concerned and make it just another political cause. This is the "teach the controversy" strategy that was identified by Barbara Forest seven years ago:
In an effort to arouse skepticism regarding evolution as the natural process that has shaped Earth’s life forms, ID proponents falsely claim that there is a controversy within mainstream science regarding the status of evolutionary theory, which they claim is “in crisis,” a “dying theory” (Miller, 2001). Ostensibly intended to stimulate critical thinking by informing students of a raging disagreement among mainstream scientists, this ID slogan violates the most basic requirement of critical thinking: truthfulness. Productive debate about evolution would require, first, that there be a genuine controversy, and second, that all parties to the debate approach the discussion in good faith. ID proponents fail on both counts: (1) There is no controversy in the mainstream scientific community about either the fact of evolution or the major aspects of evolutionary theory. ID is simply perpetuating the cultural controversy surrounding evolution that dates back to the early 20th century. (2) ID proponents enter the debate with a religious agenda that they deny to mainstream audiences but discuss freely with their friendly religious audiences, knowing that their supporters—unlike unknowing potential opponents—will understand their code terms.
This is still, obviously, true today.

More on the story here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ark Encounter Breaks Ground In Kentucky

The construction has begun!  WKYT in Kentucky reports this:
Workers are clearing land in northern Kentucky to build a long-stalled tourist attraction featuring Noah's Ark.

Ken Ham, head of the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis, posted video of the excavation work on his Facebook page this week.

It is the first sign of large-scale construction activity at the site in Grant County since plans for the 510-foot long biblical ark were announced by Answers in Genesis in 2010. The project had been delayed when private donations did not keep pace with the construction timeline.
510 feet? The relevant text in Genesis reads this way:
14So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.
The note at the bottom of this chapter in most bibles indicates that to be 450 feet. On the AiG site, Ham writes that his Ark Encounter will show the ark as a real ship that was seaworthy and that it will be built “according to the dimensions in the Bible.”  He then clearly shows an image of an ark that is 510 feet long.  I wonder why Ham's ark is sixty feet longer? Surely if they are adhering to the literal reading of the passage, this represents a deviation. The biblical (and generally Mesopotamian) cubit was 18 inches long.  It is only if you use the Sumerian cubit of 20.42 that you arrive at the length dimensions of Ham's ark.  So, the (admittedly somewhat jocular) question is, if Ham is so bent on adhering to the letter of the biblical story, why has he gone outside of the Bible for his length measurement?  And, for that matter, since his ark is sixty feet longer, and, according to the picture, he hasn't adjusted his width and height measurements, won't that throw off his hydrodynamics?  This represents almost a 12% increase in length.  Would his ark really be as seaworthy as he says?  For that matter, if your dimensions are not that important, why not make it round?

All right, enough fun for the day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

English Education and the Rise of Islamic Radicalism

The Telegraph is reporting that education secretary Nicky Morgan has stripped kindergarten schools in the United Kingdom that teach creationism of taxpayer funding.  They write:

Any nursery that teaches creationism as scientific fact will be stripped of taxpayer funding. This is unlikely to apply to Christian nurseries as they tend to be more balanced. However large numbers of Muslim nurseries refuse to accept evolution. The rules will bring nurseries into line with schools. A government source stressed: “We are absolutely not saying, 'You can’t teach Bible stories’.”
This is a follow-up to a story that ran on Breitbart London, about the infiltration of the UK school system by radical Islamism.  The story on Breitbart reproduces a statement by Morgan to the Home Secretary, which includes the following:
But what Peter Clarke found is disturbing. His report sets out compelling evidence of a determined effort by people with a shared ideology to gain control of the governing bodies of a small number of schools in Birmingham.

Teachers have said they fear children are learning to be intolerant of difference and diversity. Instead of enjoying a broadening and enriching experience in school, young people are having their horizons narrowed and are being denied the opportunity to flourish in a modern multicultural Britain.

There has been no evidence of direct radicalisation or violent extremism. But there is a clear account in the report of people in positions of influence in these schools, with a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith, who have not promoted fundamental British values and who have failed to challenge the extremist views of others.

Individuals associated with the Park View Educational Trust in particular have destabilised headteachers, sometimes leading to their resignation or removal. Particularly shocking is the evidence of the social media discussion of the Park View Brotherhood group whose actions “betray a collective mind-set that can fairly be described as an intolerant Islamist approach which denies the validity of alternative beliefs.”

Evidence collected by Peter Clarke shows that Birmingham City Council was aware of the practices that were subsequently outlined in the “Trojan Horse” letter long before it surfaced.
This is becoming a bit of an identity crisis for England, which has long prided itself on its MultiCulti viewpoint. The problem, of course, is sometimes you welcome viewpoints that have open hostility to yours.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ark Encounter Shouting Match: ‘It’s called the Constitution’

Greg Stumbo, a democrat from the city of Prestonburg, Kentucky, in a press conference, has stated that he is opposed to the tax incentives for the proposed theme park Ark Encounter (Ark-n-Park) on the grounds that it violates the separation of church and state.  Scott Wartman, of, writes:
Ark Encounter is a $172 million biblical-themed amusement park planned in Williamstown that will feature a full scale replica of Noah’s Ark. It is a venture of Answers in Genesis, which created the Creation Museum.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, in a press conference Wednesday called the tax credits unconstitutional, because they violated separation of church and state. He believes giving tax credits for a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark will draw lawsuits that could prove expensive for the state.

“It’s called the Constitution,” Stumbo said. “It happens to be the law, and I happen to take an oath to uphold it. I’m not going to vote for anything, and I never have, that is blatantly unconstitutional, no matter how politically popular it is.”
Brian Linder, a Republican, responded:
“While the Speaker has an issue with a religious theme park receiving tax incentives to provide jobs, he apparently has no problem occupying a chair in the House chambers that has, in large letters, the motto “In God We Trust” behind it,” Linder said in the statement. “It is clear that as long as Stumbo occupies that chair, Kentucky will continue to lag behind other states in creating new jobs and boosting our economy.’
In a letter to, which ran a similar story, Mark Looey, the Chief Commercial Officer of the Ark Encounter, wrote somewhat pithily:
We point out that an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky told USA Today in 2010 that the state should be non-discriminatory toward the Ark Encounter.

We would further suggest that it would be illegal for the state to engage in viewpoint discrimination. In addition, the state is not compelling anyone to visit the Ark Encounter and is not endorsing its content.

Was Kentucky endorsing alcohol consumption when it approved tax refunds for a beer distillery tour project in 2012?
Looey is correct about this.  USA Today ran this tidbit in December of 2010:
American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky staff attorney Bill Sharp said he doesn't see constitutional problems with the state granting tax exemptions for the project.

"Courts have found that giving such tax exemptions on a nondiscriminatory basis does not violate the establishment clause, even when the tax exemption goes to a religious purpose," Sharp said.
The ACLU doesn't ordinarily end up on the side of religious freedom, it seems, so this is significant, Stumbo’s comments notwithstanding.

Monday, August 11, 2014

David MacMillan: Understanding Creationism VIII

David MacMillan continues his series of posts on being a former young-earth creationist.  This part is personal history about his change of heart and, reading it, it gives me hope about others.  He writes:
All the while, I still maintained that even if evolution could work, it wasn’t fact, because the planet wasn’t old enough. Granted, I could see how the planet could be billions of years old – flood geology was wearing a little thin – but I was still constrained by religious belief to a 6,000-year-old universe. I think I really did know the truth at this point, deep down, but I didn’t feel like I could admit it.
Then I started learning about the history of creationism, and that’s where things started to crack. I learned that the age of the earth had never been a dividing issue in Christianity, not until Morris and Whitcomb plagiarized flood geology from the Seventh Day Adventists in the 1960s. I realized that not even the church fathers saw Genesis 1 as speaking of six actual days. Martin Luther was one of the only six-day creationists in church history, and he also believed geocentrism for the same reasons, so that wasn’t very encouraging. I began to see how there might be problems with the “historical-grammatical” approach to interpreting Genesis. If the creationist leaders were so far wrong about science, why should I expect their treatment of the Bible to be reliable?
This is an area that most young earth creationists don't know much about: the history of their own views.    Whitcomb and Morris' book is a near retread of the work of George MacReady Price and the views derive in large part from the works of Ellen White, the Seventh Day Adventist that lived in the late 1800s.  As Joshua Moritz wrote:
White and her Seventh Day Adventist followers harbored no doubts about the correct reading of the early chapters of Genesis because in a trancelike vision White was ‘‘carried back to the creation’’ by God himself, ‘‘and was shown that the first week, in which God performed the work of creation in six [24 hour] days and rested on the seventh day, was just like every other week.’’ White likewise saw that during Noah’s flood, God created all the various geological layers of sediment and fossils by burying the organic debris and causing ‘‘a powerful wind to pass over the some instances carrying away the tops of mountains like mighty avalanches...burying the dead bodies with trees, stones, and earth.’’ Thus, from the divine dreams of Ellen White young earth creationism was born and, ironically, it was conceived in stark opposition to the reigning biblical literalism of the day.
MacMillan closes with some very important tactics to remember, the first one at which I fail miserably.  He writes that we should be patient, but I find that hard to do as I encounter stubborn refusal on the part of creationists to address the evidence with any degree of honesty or integrity (for example, the recent posts on David Menton's human origins AiG article).

He writes that we are to know our enemy and that is not the person we are speaking with but the creationist viewpoint, itself.  This is also a point.  The problem here (and it relates to the previous paragraph) is that even if you can show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the YEC viewpoint is full of holes, the same viewpoint continues to be pressed by its purveyors (e.g. Ken Ham, John Morris). 

If I teach that all cats are red and you show me, categorically, that, no, some cats are red, some cats are blue and some cats are green, and yet I continue to teach that all cats are red, at some point, it becomes a lie.  It doesn't matter how sincere I am or that I tie it to a personal religious belief.  It is still a lie.  David Menton, when faced with mountains of evidence that did not fit his worldview, had two options: to adjust his worldview, or to try to twist the evidence to say things that it did not. He chose the latter. That is part-and-parcel of young earth creationism.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

BioLogos, Ken Ham and David Menton—A Response, Part VI: The Conclusion

This concludes my response to David Menton's post on human origins, which has been a chore to read and respond to. Menton's conclusion is so short, I will post it in its entirety:
Why then are there continued efforts to make apes out of man and man out of apes? In one of the most remarkably frank and candid assessments of the whole subject and the methodology of paleoanthropology, Dr. David Pilbeam (a distinguished professor of anthropology) suggested the following:

Perhaps generations of students of human evolution, including myself, have been flailing about in the dark; that our data base is too sparse, too slippery, for it to be able to mold our theories. Rather the theories are more statements about us and ideology than about the past. Paleoanthropology reveals more about how humans view themselves than it does about how humans came about. But that is heresy.
Oh, that these heretical words were printed as a warning on every textbook, magazine, newspaper article, and statue that presumes to deal with the bestial origin of man!
No, we are not descended from apes. Rather, God created man as the crown of His creation on Day 6. We are a special creation of God, made in His image, to bring Him glory. What a revolution this truth would make if our evolutionized culture truly understood it!
First, David Pilbeam wrote that almost forty years ago, and yet Menton appears to hold it up as current scholarship.  You wouldn't do that in any legitimate scientific discipline.  It may be a good example of “look what we thought back then,” in a historical sense and as compare and contrast but not current thought.  This is a typical young earth creationist tactic: find a useful quote and keep using it, long after it is no longer true or has been debunked.  As such, it is no different than using (or abusing) Solly Zuckerman's quote from the early 1970s.  I saw Duane Gish at the University of Tennessee a few years back he used Zuckerman's quote as well.  Once a quote is found, it makes the rounds.

Pilbeam's quote comes from a review of Richard Leakey's book Origins and is found in the American Scientist (Vol. 66, No. 3, May-June 1978).  Let's see what Pilbeam thinks about palaeoanthropology as of 1995:
The discovery of an australopithecine mandible together with a middle Pliocene fauna 2,500 km west of the Rift Valley considerably extends the known range of these early hominids and raises several interesting issues. The Chad specimen is most similar to its East African contemporary A. afarensis. Nevertheless, in certain features-mandibular morphology, premolar roots and enamel thickness- it differs from the described hypodigm of A. afarensis . Given the genetic and morphological differences now recognized between allopatric populations within, for example, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, Pongo pygmaeus and Papio hamadryas as well as other African mammals, it is not surprising that contemporaneous hominid populations as geographically distant as Chad and Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania would differ in morphology, regardless of whether they are classified as species or subspecies. Here we do not choose to name a new species, recognizing that more detailed comparisons are necessary before the taxonomy of this Bahr el Ghazal hominid can be resolved.1
Here, he and the other authors of the paper clearly feel that the state of the discipline is sound enough to make educated pronouncements about the fossil record.  In all of Pilbeam's papers, it is clear that he is committed “evolutionist.” As with all palaeoanthropologists, he accepts that there may be aspects of the study that are not known or poorly understood but, of the central tenet: that humans have evolved, there is clearly no doubt.  Thirty six years is a long time in the history of a scientific discipline.

How good is our understanding of the human fossil record now?  Here is what another distinguished professor of anthropology, Richard Klein, has to say:
In the absence of fossils, Darwin could not have predicted the fundamental pattern of human evolution, but his evolutionary theory readily accommodates the pattern we now recognize. Probably the most fundamental finding is that the australopithecines, who existed from at least 4.5 million to 2 million years ago, were distinguished from apes primarily by anatomical specializations for habitual bipedalism, and it was only after 2 million years ago that people began to acquire the other traits, including our unusually large brains, that readily distinguish us from the living apes. The greatly expanded fossil record shows that the australopithecines comprised multiple species, and it suggests that our own genus, Homo, descended from one of these about 2.5 million years ago.2
Note the phrase “the greatly expanded fossil record.” Recall the two compendia on this fossil record I mentioned in the first part of this response. Menton clearly is unfamiliar with this record and his attempts to discredit it are shallow, as a result.

To recap:
  • He claims that “evolutionists” just accept similarities between fossil bones of living men and fossilized apes as evidence of ancestry. Such a statement betrays a lack of understanding of homology, functional morphology and the modern study of evolutionary systematics. It glosses over important skeletal structures that arose during our ancestry and which separate our direct ancestors from all apes, fossil or otherwise.
  • He massively under-emphasizes the size of the human fossil record and the complexity of it, simply dismissing it with no examination or explanation.
  • He suggests that research projects cannot be undertaken based on pictures and measurements of fossil hominins.  This is absurd.  There is no scientific discipline that does not rely on published reports.  Moreover, this is a peculiar statement coming from a professor of anatomy, who must have, during his tenure as a professor, read countless articles on aspects of anatomy in which there were published measurements and pictures.  What was he to make of those?  Did they not constitute real research on which he based his own?
  • He mistakenly calls a spider monkey an ape, bringing into question his understanding of basic primate taxonomy.  Further, while his anatomical specialty seems to have been at the cellular level, he betrays a peculiar lack of understanding of human morphological functional interrelatedness by suggesting that the carrying angle of hominins can be dissociated from hip, limb and cranial morphology.  While it may be true that some apes have a similar carrying angle to humans, not a one of them has a foramen magnum at the base of the skull, angled femoral condyles, or a flat, wide pelvis.  Further, these derived traits show up in the fossil record around 3.7 million years ago.  How did he miss these things?  When I took gross anatomy and physiology, I was required to learn not just developmental biology, but functional and comparative morphology.  Has he forgotten his?
  • He writes that Ardipithecus, Orrorin, Sahelanthropus, and Kenyanthropus all have “obviously ape skulls, ape pelvises, and ape hands and feet” despite the fact that only one of these finds preserves the skeletal parts he references. This suggests that he never even bothered to look at the reports detailing these finds.  To make such errant, blanket statements about them is incompetent and sloppy. 
  • He cherry-picks quotes that support his position and ignores ones that do not.  While he calls A. afarensis “long-armed knuckle-walkers” and suggests that palaeoanthropologists Stern and Susman3 argue that it is an ape, he carefully ignores other paragraphs from their article, in which they clearly argue that it is transitional between apes and humans, even using the phrase “missing link.”  He then (again, oddly for an anatomist) ignores other critical morphology of A. afarensis that clearly indicates its transitional status.
  • He writes that Neandertals were considered human but have recently been denigrated to non-human status, when in fact, that is precisely backwards.  From their initial discoveries, Neandertals were considered subhuman4,5 and it has only been within the last thirty years that their relationship to modern humans has been reassessed, inviting claims by some that they represent simply an earlier version of us and incorporating new genetic knowledge of interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans6.  
This is a badly written post that shows little in the way of actual research.  He seems to misunderstand basic anatomy, gets fossil descriptions wrong, quote-mines to show only what appears to support his position and seems to show no understanding of basic evolutionary biology.  His demeanor is pompous and contemptuous and his treatment of the subject matter invites scorn.

I have absolutely no doubt that Dr. Menton is a bible-believing Christian and that, as such, he is an asset to the kingdom.  I also believe that, like so many other young-earth creationists I am familiar with, he treats the fossil material and the discipline of evolutionary biology with dishonesty and lack of integrity.  This saddens me since it, as with all of creation, reflects the goodness, glory and, importantly, the awesomeness of God.  Further, it is a bad witness and pushes people away from God. 
    1Brunet, M, Beauvilain, A, Coppens, Y, Heintz, E, Moutaye, A, Pilbeam, D. (2014) The first australopithecine 2,500 kilometres west of the Rift Valley (Chad). Nature 378, November 16, 1995
    2Klein, R. G. (2009). Darwin and the recent African origin of modern humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(38), 16007-16009.
    3Stern Jr, J. T., & Susman, R. L. (1983). The locomotor anatomy of Australopithecus afarensis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 60(3), 279-317.
    4Boule, M. (1913). L'homme fossile de La Chapelle-aux-Saints: Masson.
    5Virchow, Rudolf. Untersuchung der Neanderthal Schädels. 1872.
    6For example: Sankararaman S, Patterson N, Li H, Pääbo S, Reich D (2012) The Date of Interbreeding between Neandertals and Modern Humans. PLoS Genet 8(10): e1002947. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002947
    7Krings, M., Stone, A., Schmitz, R. W., Krainitzki, H., Stoneking, M., & Pääbo, S. (1997). Neandertal DNA sequences and the origin of modern humans. Cell, 90(1), 19-30.