Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Believing Neandertal

The Veritas Forum at the University of Tennessee is holding a presentation and discussion on The Believing Neandertal, a conversation with Jeffrey Schloss, a senior scholar at the BioLogos Institute.  It is in the University Center Auditorium Thursday night, February 27, at 7:00 p.m.  If you are in the area, you should come.  Schloss writes mostly about eschatology, the origin of religion and the supernatural as it relates to evolution.  His web site is here

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What Did Bill Nye and Ken Ham Miss?

Oliver Putz, writing for SFGate (The San Francisco Chronicle) argues that Bill Nye and Ken Ham both missed the boat in their debate Tuesday of last week.  He writes:
Whether you see religion and science as irreconcilable enemies or not depends first and foremost on the premises with which you engage the question of their relationship. For example, if you agree with Ham that all we have to do to figure out the origins of the various species on Earth is to pick up the Bible and read it literally, you are bound for conflict with evolutionary biology. If your response to Ham is that only scientific evidence leads you to the truth, you are likewise a far cry from common ground. The question is whether these are the only two options when it comes to evaluating the origins of biological diversity.
One commenter remarked that Bill Nye's position is painted in such broad strokes as to constitute a straw man and that Nye never argued that there was only one way to the truth.  This is true and it isn't.  At no point in the debate did Nye state that religious perspectives are worthless or irrelevant and that science is the only way to get at truth.  On the other hand, Nye makes no secret of the fact that he is agnostic and exalts scientific endeavors to a level that is, perhaps, unwarranted.  Science is, as with anything else, a human enterprise and not above error.  One need only look at the Piltdown hoax to see that.

Oliver Putz is correct that there are other alternatives.  An obvious one (that he points out at the end of his post) is evolutionary creationism/theistic evolution, which I represent.  While Ham has made no secret of the fact that he does not care for this perspective, Nye has not said one way or the other if he thinks this is acceptable as a philosophical construct.  As I mentioned in my last post about this, a good response on Nye's part to Ken Ham's litany of “scientists-who-are-also-creationists” would have been to respond with the names of Francis Collins, John Polkinghorne, and Davis Young as “people of faith” who think that young earth creationism is nonsense.  He did not.

The problem with the format of the debate as it was presented is that each person had a chance to say things that the other did not have a chance to counteract or rebut.  That gave the appearance of two people talking past each other.   A better debate structure would have been a roundtable setting with a moderator where each would be able to directly address the claims of the other.  This would have bridged the gap between science and theology.

“Tell me, Mr. Ham, what is the extra-biblical evidence for the Tower of Babel, the flood and the Garden of Eden and why do you hold to such a rigid, literal interpretation of scripture when theologians the world over don't accept this reading?  Tell me, Mr. Nye, can religion play a role in the daily lives of scientists and would Linnaeus’ classification of “God's creation” be an example of this?”

Those (among others) are questions for which I would like answers.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Nearly Half of Americans Accept Astrology As Science

How bad is the science education in this country?  UPI is running a story about the acceptance of astrology in the United States.  It is depressing:
According to a new survey by the National Science Foundation, nearly half of all Americans say astrology, the study of celestial bodies' purported influence on human behavior and worldly events, is either "very scientific" or "sort of scientific."

By contrast, 92 percent of the Chinese public think horoscopes are a bunch of baloney.

What's more alarming, researchers show in the 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators study, is that American attitudes about science are moving in the wrong direction. Skepticism of astrology hit an all-time high in 2004, when 66 percent of Americans said astrology was total nonsense. But each year, fewer and fewer respondents have dismissed the connections between star alignment and personality as bunk.
This, once again, calls into sharp focus why we have to have good, grounded science education. While it is quite true that many people will accept something because they simply want to, despite the evidence, a good many people simply don't know better. They also don't have a good grasp on what science is and how it operates. One of the principle sections of my Anthropology 110 class opening lecture is how science is practiced and how to distinguish between hypothesis and theory. I am continually amazed at how many people get those questions wrong.

On the other hand, as far as the Discovery Institute is concerned, astrology really is science.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ars Technica: A visual tour of the Creation Museum

Cheers to Ars Technica for doing something I am not willing to do: pony up the entrance fee to the Creation Museum.  Their diligence in doing this has resulted in a visual tour of the museum that can be found here

In his comments, Eric Bangeman makes no secret of the fact that the exhibits have no support in modern science, whatsoever.  If nothing else, they reinforce the flatness of the biblical interpretation.  For example, there are several panels that have two columns which are headed "Man's Word" and "God's Word" as if biblical interpretation were monolithic in its understanding of these issues.  As one goes through the museum, one is treated to a view from 35,000 feet.  There are blanket statements that are only partly true or simply not true at all.  For example

  • One of the panels reads: "Archaeology has repeatedly confirmed that the Bible's historical details are accurate."  This is only partly true.  While the Bible has confirmed the existence and historicity of many of the Biblical accounts, absolutely none of Genesis 1-11 has been confirmed and there is boundless archaeological evidence showing human existence back millions of years.  This statement glosses over that.
  • Under a breathtaking picture of the Grand Canyon, there is a plaque that reads:
    Secular scientists say the Grand Canyon was formed over millions of years by the normal slow geological processes we see today.  But the catastrophe at Mount St. Helens shows that similar features can form very quickly.
    This is a straw man view of modern geology.  While there is evidence for catastrophic events in the history of the earth, what is not said on this plaque is that there is also considerable evidence (more so) for slow deposition that could not have happened quickly—salt diapers, buried coral reefs, compressed aeolian deposits, folded or tilted rock formations—and which contradict the idea that a world-wide flood created the stratigraphic column.  The plaque also states that the local recent catastrophes are the key to understanding the entire geological column.  That is absolutely untrue and whoever wrote this knows nothing of modern geology.  
  • On the "What Do We Know About Dinosaurs" plaque, we find the following statement:
    Dinosaur fossils don't come with tags on them telling us how old they are, where they lived, what they ate, or how they died.  We have to figure that out from a few clues we find.  But because we can never have all the evidence, different scientists can reach very different conclusions, depending on their starting assumptions.
    There are no practicing palaeontologists dealing with dinosaur remains who think they were created six thousand years ago.  Scour the palaeontological journals.  You will not find a single article that provides that conclusion.  There simply is no evidence for it.  Who are these “different scientists?” The plaque doesn't say.
  • There is a "Did You Know?" plaque that reads:
    Over four thousand years ago, God sent a flood that covered the whole world—even the highest mountains at that time—for almost a year.  That is why we find billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth.
    First, there is a good deal of geological material in the rock record that was NOT laid down by water.  This is not explained.  Second, a world-wide flood (especially that envisioned by Whitcomb and Morris) would scramble everything up and yet fossils are never found out of place.  Bill Nye made this point in the debate.  Trilobites are perfectly sorted by the number of compound eye segments.  Dinosaurs are three-quarters of the way up the column and sorted by species, when hydrodynamics would have them sinking to the bottom.  Pterosaurs mysteriously die at the same time the last dinosaurs did, despite the fact that they would have been able to fly to the top of the column.  There are no human structures of any kind to be found at the bottom of the column, which is where they should be.  Where is Cain's city?  The evidence would seem to suggest that all humans lived in open-air environments.
  • The plaque on Archaeopteryx is remarkably self-contradictory.  First, it reads:
    Besides typical bird features (feathers, light bone structure, wishbone, and reduced fingers), Archaeopteryx also had teeth, three claws on each wing, abdominal ribs, a long bony tail, and a flat sternum.  Archaeopteryx was about the size of a crow and appears to have been a good flyer.
    Then it reads:
    Archaeopteryx does not support the current false belief that dinosaurs evolved into birds.  Through much research, even most evolutionists now consider Archaeopteryx to be a true bird.  Archaeopteryx: a true, perching bird!
    Which is it?  Is it a true bird, or does it have teeth, three claws, abdominal ribs, a long bony tail and a flat sternum?  Those are dinosaurian characteristics that no self-respecting bird would have.  Furthermore, the part about evolutionists thinking that Archaeopteryx is a true bird is pure fabrication. A check of articles written in the last thirty years on Archaeopteryx reveals that workers in the field, despite being variable in their taxonomic interpretations of where it fits, are uniform in their understanding that this was, at best, a primitive bird and probably a derivative of theropod dinosaurs.  As Mdr remarked in Science Buzz
    For many years some Archaeopteryx specimens languished in collection drawers because they had been initially misidentified as another creature entirely. In 1970, Yale paleontologist John Ostrom was investigating a so-called pteradactyl fossil at a museum in the Netherlands, when he realized it had been misidentified and was actually an Archaeopteryx.  
These points only scratch the surface but if this tour of the Creation Museum is representative of all that is there (and I have no reason to believe otherwise, given what I know of Mr. Ham's message),  the museum is a testament to just how badly evidence can be misinterpreted and how bad creation science can be.  While I am sure that Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis are trying to adhere to what they believe to be a correct interpretation of God's word, there is a frightening level of obfuscation and misdirection in the exhibits.   Massive amounts of evidence that do not support the young earth position are ignored in favor of positions that cannot be independently supported.

That strikes me as deceitful, if not mendacious. As Christians, we cannot afford to be dishonest.  It is a bad witness to non-believers and denigrates the word of God.  Christians need to find a way to honestly deal with the geological and palaeontological evidence that does not involve sweeping it under the rug or twisting it to say something it does not.  Ken Ham's Creation Museum does both. 

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

    Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: Public cash to teach creationism

    An article in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette raises what is becoming more of a concern among educators: that creationism is being taught in schools funded with public money.  I am in favor vouchers because it is often the only way that kids can escape failing public schools but the more the spectre of creationism raises its head, the less support for the voucher programs there will be.  Julie Crothers writes:
    Department of Education officials did not respond to calls or emails asking for a comment about vouchers and private schools teaching creationism.

    Evolution is taught in public schools as “an explanation of the history of life on Earth and the similarities among organisms that exist today,” according to curriculum listed on the Indiana Department of Education’s Learning Connection website.

    Several Indiana private schools are listed on, a website opposing the teaching of creationism in schools that receive taxpayer money.

    Some schools, including at least five area Christian schools listed on the site, continue to use creationism and intelligent design textbooks for reading, history and science courses, according to curriculum and school missions posted on school websites.
    As compelled as they are about teaching what they think to be God's word, this will blow up in the face of the people who use the voucher program to teach creationism as well as for those who use it in the way that it should be used—to get their kids a good education.  In the future, in order to save the voucher programs, riders will have to be introduced that mandate the teaching of established science in order to receive state money.  Otherwise, expect opponents of vouchers to use this as a club to kill the whole program.  That would be a shame, given the sorry state of the public schools. 

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    Oldest Footprints Outside of Africa

    Fossil footprints have been found in England that are thought to be 800,000 years old.  As Science Daily puts it:
    The importance of the Happisburgh footprints is highlighted by the rarity of footprints surviving elsewhere. Only those at Laetoli in Tanzania at about 3.5 million years and at Ileret and Koobi Fora in Kenya at about 1.5 million years are older.

    A lecturer in physical geography, and co-director of the Happisburgh project (, Dr Lewis added that the chance of encountering footprints such as this was extremely rare; they survived environmental change and the passage of time.

    Timing was also crucial as "their location was revealed just at a moment when researchers were there to see it" during a geophysical survey. "Just two weeks later the tide would have eroded the footprints away."

    "At first we weren't sure what we were seeing," explains Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum "but as we removed any remaining beach sand and sponged off the seawater, it was clear that the hollows resembled prints, and that we needed to record the surface as quickly as possible."
    This illustrates the fragility of the fossil record and how incredibly fortunate we are to have anything, let alone what we do have.There isn't a whole heck of a lot in England to begin with.  The boxgrove tibia is around 500 Kya and the Swanscombe skull is around 300 Kya.   We know that early Homo was in southern Europe around 1.2-1.3 Mya and now, in northern Europe by at least 800 Kya. 

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    Pat Robertson Blasts Ken Ham's View of Scripture

    The Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate was watched by many, many people.  One of the them, it appears, was Pat Robertson, the head of CBN and host of the 700 Club.  As the Christian Post reports, on his show he took the time to say exactly what he thought of Ken Ham's theology:
    Robertson said that Ham was using faulty data from Bishop Ussher, an Irish Christian, who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries. To make his claims, Ussher calculated the date of creation, based on his knowledge of the Bible, the ancient Persian, Greek and Roman civilizations, astronomy, ancient calendars and chronology.

    The televangelist said that science had since refuted Ussher's claims.

    "The dating of Bishop Ussher just doesn't comport with anything that is found in science and you can't just totally deny the geological formations that are out there," said Robertson.

    "Anyone who is in the oil business knows he's drilling down, 2 miles, 3 miles underground, you're coming into all these layers that were laid down by the dinosaurs," said Robertson. "And we have skeletons of dinosaurs that go back like 65 million years. And to say that it all came around 6 thousand years ago is nonsense."
    This is not the first time that Robertson has taken a stab at Young earth creationism.  He did so in 2012 as well, in response to a question about how old he thought the earth was.  Interestingly, in that response, he gave no clues to his views on evolution.  In this particular response to the Ham/Nye debate, Robertson does actually endorse Evolutionary creationism. 

    Here is the relevant video from the program.

    Like so many of us who watched Ken Ham present his theology, Robertson replies: "There just ain't no way that's possible."  How many people Robertson will sway is not clear.  He has made some missteps in recent years and is not viewed with as much credibility as in the past.  Nonetheless, it will get attention. 

    Wednesday, February 05, 2014

    Initial Thoughts on the Bill Nye/Ken Ham Debate...

    I took three pages (front and back) of notes but do not have them with me.  My first thought is that Ken Ham is the better debater.  His presentation was well-packaged and just vague enough in places that you couldn't quite grab a hold of it.  I was extremely impressed that he was so open and forthright about his Christianity.  That was gratifying to see.  Bill Nye, on the other hand, is an excellent presenter and had a wit and charm that served him in very good stead.  For the most part, he was able to hold his own and present the message he wanted to get across.  There were, however, a number of golden opportunities that Bill Nye missed that were very frustrating to watch.  Here are some that I remember:

    • Ken Ham stated that his model of origins is viable and that there is evidence for the Garden of Eden, the biblical flood and the Tower of Babel.  There isn't.  Bill Nye's argument against the feasibility of floating a large wooden vessel was ineffective and his argument against the possibility that 16 million species could not have fit on the ark was, in my opinion, not well constructed.  The biogeographical arguments alone sink the world-wide flood model. 
    • Further, had Nye spent even five minutes talking about how flat Ham's theological construct is and that there are many, many Christians who do not interpret the bible in the way that Ham does, his presentation would have been much more successful.  Nye focused on the fact that the bible has been translated and re-translated many times.  That won't fly.  The historical integrity of the bible is actually quite good. It is Ham's interpretation of the Bible, according to the vast majority of biblical scholars, that is suspect. 
    • Ken Ham's initial presentation included the testimonials of real-life, practicing scientists who are self-professed creationists and yet publish in secular journals.  This gave a credibility to his presentation that creationism sorely needs.  What Nye should have done is mention that none of the people that Ham invoked deal directly the palaeontological, genetic or geological evidence involving the age of the earth.  Nye should then have said the reason for that is that 99.9% of scientists practicing in those fields don't accept Ham's model for origins.  It would be even more damaging if he had then brought up counter-examples of scientists who are Christians, such as Davis Young, Carol Hill or Dennis Venema who do not accept Ham's world view.
    • When Ham began his diatribe about how we can never know the past because there were no observers (an expanded version of his "Were you there?" argument), Nye gave only two rambling examples of how predictive science is by using the discovery of the Devonian transitional tetrapod Tiktaalik and the 3K background radiation evidence for the big bang found in the universe.  Those examples should have been expanded and there should have been others.  For example, he could have mentioned the prediction of Charles Darwin's that we would find the oldest human ancestors in Africa because that is where our closest living relatives are found, or the prediction that, aside from finding living marsupials in Australia, we would find marsupial fossils in South America and Antarctica based on our knowledge of continental drift, or the hypotheses that resulted in the discovery of the meteorite impact crater in the Yucatan Peninsula that likely meant the demise of the dinosaurs. All of these came true.
    • In a related point, Ham makes a mention of the fact that we cannot know the past.  Nye should have pointed out that the Bible was written in the past and that there is no one around today that existed at the time that it was written down.  The answer to "were you there?" is "No, I wasn't, but neither were you."   The bible has been painstakingly reconstructed from ancient texts and manuscripts and, as noted above, the process has been largely successful.  The same is true of the historical sciences, which are trying to piece together a reconstruction of the past world. 
    Bill Nye addressed none of these arguments.   He had a message that was "good science education is absolutely necessary for the good of this country and Ken Ham's model doesn't provide it."  He varied from it very little.  Ken Ham's message was that "the Bible has all of the information necessary to develop a well-rounded complete view of the universe, exactly as it is written."

    Bill Nye also spent too much time wondering how anyone in their right mind could accept the world as Ken Ham portrays it.  That doesn't matter.  They do.  Thousands and thousands of them do.  He needed to get past that and was, seemingly, unable to.

    People will be talking about this debate for years to come and, based on what I have read, supporters of both sides have claimed victory.  It seems to me that very few punches connected on either side, let alone any knockout punches.  It looked, instead, like a fifteen-round split-decision. 

    Monday, February 03, 2014

    Bill Nye and Ken Ham go head-to-head

    The Cincinnati Enquirer has a "head to head" column with Bill Nye and Ken Ham ahead of their debate tomorrow night.  Of note from Ham:
    Is Christianity incompatible with evolution?

    I’m not saying you’re not a Christian because the Bible doesn’t say you have to believe in six days (of creation) and a young earth. You have to believe in Jesus Christ to be a Christian. But you have to change the Bible to fit with the millions of years theory, and that undermines the Bible’s authority.
    Ham is not being genuine in this comment. When Pete Enns tried to offer instruction in how to incorporate biblical theology with evolution at a homeschool conference, Ham publicly attacked him, saying that he was trying to undermine the authority of the bible. He might say that he thinks people can accept evolution and be Christians but when push comes to shove, he will fight that interpretation.  If he really accepts that people can accept evolution, why publicly attack that perspective? 

    The interview also suggests that Nye is, at least, not going into this with his eyes closed:
    What information do you want the audience to walk away with?

    The audience in the theater isn’t likely to be influenced by anything I say. By one account the tickets sold out in two minutes. Presumably the tickets all went to people in his church, and his organization. My main point is that these people exist in the United States, which when I stop to think about it is incredible. It means that I as a science educator have failed. I’m not sure he really believes it, but he says the world is 6,000 years old. Roads have been built, presumably using Kentucky tax money, to a museum that calls attention to this point of view. We cannot have scientifically illiterate students. We have too many problems to solve.
    This is true but I am not sure how a debate with the most popular purveyor of this perspective is going to help. You can't look at the audience and appeal to their sense of understanding when most of them accept Ham's version of origins science because they don't know what the science actually says.  Further,  they have had it beaten into their heads that evolution is not science.  As my conversation with my highly intelligent friend who did not know that evolution was testable indicates, the amount of misinformation is, at a debate level, almost too much to overcome.  

    I Fear He is Correct...

    Brett Byers-Lane of Liberty Voice thinks that Bill Nye will lose the debate with Ken Ham. Here is how he reasons:
    Evolutionists have been scratching their heads at the idea of a scientist giving any sort of credence to creationist theories. They argue that a forum such as this upcoming debate only props up those who believe in intelligent design as the architect of life.

    However, that is not the real reason why evolutionists are so steadfastly against this debate. Frankly, the ball is in Ham’s court and it is Nye’s game to lose.

    First of all, there is the issue of the venue. Essentially, Ham will be on his home turf inside the Creation Museum. Tickets for the event sold out long ago, but it would not be surprising if a great number of those purchases were fellow creationists.

    On top of that, there will be a world watching. Students at Liberty University will be watching the entire ordeal via live stream, and it is likely that hundreds of thousands of other individuals will closely follow the action during and after the February 4 debate. After all, with about 50 percent of the country in support of creationism and only 15 percent sure that evolutionary theories are true, Nye has the odds stacked against him in terms of his audience.

    As well, Ham knows what he’s talking about, and there is some debate over whether or not Nye will be as prepared. Both men are skilled oral communicators, but Ham is the more well versed as a debater. Furthermore, Ham knows his theories and Nye’s theories inside and out, whereas Nye is not actually an evolutionary biologist at all, and his experience with creationism to this point seems to be the continual assertion that creationists are wrong because science said so.
    The reaction that I have is that Ham has been twisting the science for years whereas Bill Nye doesn't understand why anyone would not take the science at face value. Nye is coming at this from an innocent perspective, aghast that anyone would believe what Ham is promoting. That is the problem. Lots and lots of people do, and they hold it as dear to them as any religious belief. I also think that Nye thinks he is going to be able to explain the science in his down-home folksyway and people are going to get it.  They aren't.  Basic science knowledge in this area of research in this country is amazingly lacking.

    But even if Nye was able to explain them, Ham will paint the argument in such a way as to show that Nye's perspective is not just wrong but evil.  His message is infused with this: that acceptance of evolution is wrong and anyone who does so is not following after the true faith.  If Nye doesn't appeal to the ability to be religious and yet accept evolution and modern-day science, he is toast.