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.