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.